For better state education, we need a better state
David Cameron’s pledge to put his three children into state schools is meaningless while British society remains so unequal
Last week David Cameron pledged to send his three children to state schools, saying it was "crazy" to pay large sums for private education. Presumably he'd like his parents to have a refund on his own Eton fees - which at today's prices would amount to a cool £156,000 - on the grounds that such privilege hasn't really got him that far in life.
No one - either in the media, or the wider world - paid much attention to Cameron's 'pledge', for two reasons. Firstly, it came with a preposterous get-out: "if the standard is high enough"; and secondly - following on from this - because no one believed him for a millisecond. Indeed, more or less everything Demotic Dave said on the subject of education sounded simultaneously idiotic and cynical - a rare achievement.
"I think it's crazy that we should pay lots of money for private schools," he twittered. "We all pay our taxes. You should have really good state schools available for all." So, by all he presumably means: all those very wealthy people who are accustomed to the standards set by Eton - otherwise, it's no down the road with a lunchbox for little Nancy, Ivan and Arthur, but off with their trunks to board, as it has been for Cameron progeny time out of mind.
Actually, Nancy is already at a selective school - a CofE primary - while Ivan, being disabled, is presumably off-limits. I very much doubt the special school he's currently attending is a state institution - but if it is, I stand corrected. That leaves little Arthur, who being only two, has almost a decade to go before he's in any danger of going to the local comp. By that time Demotic Dave will - he doubtless hopes - still be in a win-win situation so far as his great 'pledge' goes. If he isn't in government he can blame Labour, and if he is, he can still give Labour's legacy as the reason why 'the standard isn’t high enough'.
In a society like ours, the rich kids go to good schools and the poor to crap ones
As it happens I do have a child in the Camerons' local comprehensive - and she isn't doing too badly there. Indeed, it isn’t a bad school at all, although there's a police officer stationed on the premises, and when classes are too unruly (ie it is impossible for the teacher to maintain any order), a special unit called 'control' have to be sent for.
Nevertheless, I doubt these are the conditions Dave and Sam want their little treasures subjected to. Nor do I expect they want to find themselves in the position we did with our third child, who at the age of 10 was unable to write, despite being in the top 5 percentile as far as IQ. It was with great anger that - as lifelong supporters, both, ourselves, comprehensively schooled - we finally pulled him out of state education a year ago and sent him private.
For once the genial - but makeweight - Schools Minister, Jim Knight, had it right when he described Cameron's plans as "just more spin and re-branding". But that was only because New Labour have been specialising in this sort of cobblers when it comes to education for the past decade - or more.
The harsh facts are these: in a society as unequal as this one, the rich go to good schools and the poor to crap ones. If, in the past, the grammar schools allowed some children from poorer backgrounds to rise socially, it was only because society as a whole was aspirational, and the ethos of the pre-WW1 education acts was still universal. It's worth remembering that the British Expeditionary Force that crossed the Channel in 1914 was 100 per cent literate, and diarists of the time recalled sitting in dugouts where everyone - officers and men - was reading books!
The left wrongly believed comprehensive schools would bring greater equality
Now we live in a decadent, media-saturated society, with rising adult illiteracy, and decadent, media-'friendly' politicians to go with it. Labour are to blame for fostering the absurd notion that an education is just another consumer good, one for which parents should be offered a spurious 'choice'. They're also to blame for building schools on the never-never of private finance initiatives, and introducing all sorts of gimcrack ways of improving what should be a basic requirement of any civilised society: namely a universal free education for all its citizens.
Yet I see nothing whatsoever original in Michael Gove's plans for 'busting open' the state monopoly on education by encouraging more charities and entrepreneurs to compete to run new comprehensives - this is the same mood music Labour have been tootling for years. Nor do we need a massive new education bill, or some kind of putsch against the shadowy and nefarious forces that the Tories seem to think are preventing radical and effective change.
The truth is that it was the great error of the left to continue to believe that comprehensive education would somehow 'create' a more equal society, while everyone over the age of 16 went on behaving like a dodgy City trader on cocaine. If Britain wants a better state education, we'll have to have a better state - the tail won't wag the dog.
Demotic Dave, for all his man-of-the-people posturing about 'compassionate capitalism', remains absolutely wedded to inequality and privilege, so don't watch this space: nothing is going to happen in it. ·
Comments are now closed on this article