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During the eleven years of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, education in England was transformed by her determination to reorganise the state sector along public school lines and, in doing so, to remove local councils from the key role they had always played in the national system. Throughout this time, Donald Naismith was the Director of Education for three of them where he frequently came, in Lord Denning’s words, ‘very near the line’ in pursuing policies central to Mrs Thatcher’s revolution but opposed by both the ‘right’ as well as the ‘left’ wings of the education establishment. In this description of the impact of Mrs Thatcher’s policies on local government, he draws attention to the extent to which she unwillingly depended on local councils themselves to provide the practical means of putting her reforms into effect – among them Richmond’s ‘league tables’, Croydon’s ‘national curriculum’ and standardised testing, and Wandsworth’s specialist schools. Donald Naismith argues that Margaret Thatcher’s reforms would have made more headway had she enlisted the cooperation of local councils instead of fatally weakening them and predicts that a new, more powerful version of local government will, paradoxically, need to be invented if her education ‘market’ strategy now gathering momentum is to succeed.

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