Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why is the left determined to keep the private/public divide in education?

What is the greatest problem with British education? I would say that it is the Berlin Wall between the private and public sectors.

The former Tory minister George Walden put it well in his 1996 book We Should Know Better:
In no other European country do the moneyed and professional classes - lawyers, surgeons, businessmen, accountants, diplomats, newspaper and TV editors, judges, directors, archbishops, air chief marshalls, senior academics, Tory ministers, artists, authors, top civil servants - in addition to the statistically insignificant but eye-catching cohort of aristocracy and royalty - reject the system of education used by the overwhelming majority pretty well out of hand, as an inferior product.

In no modern democracy except Britain is tribalism in education so entrenched that the two main political parties send their children to different schools.
Put like that, it makes you wonder if this isn't the greatest problem with British society.

Given this analysis, you might expect that anyone who imagine themselves as on the left would welcome moves to break down this divide. But an article by Sara Gaines in today's Guardian managed to sound outraged by the news that private schools are queueing up to enter the state sector.

We are told, for instance, that Kevin Courtney, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers:
fears worse is to come. Because funding for places follows the pupil, if children flock to free schools, it could leave neighbouring schools with surplus places and budget shortfalls.
But this is just a variation on John Prescott's ludicrous argument that "If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."

Still, the left is not accepting the prospect of social barriers being broken down without a fight. Sara Gaines tells us that David Mann, the chairman of a free school that intends to open in Rotherham:
faces a challenge from local education authorities concerning his new 850-place secondary school, which will draw pupils from existing state schools. Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster council are fighting the plans and say a new school would inevitably lead to job losses at other schools.
Just imagine it. You pay your local taxes to a council that provides poor schools. Someone offers you the prospect of something better. The council then uses more of your tax to try to stop them providing it.

It is hard to argue with Mann's words:
"Lots of schools in the town are not very good. We are aiming to raise the bar. Unions are obsessed with schools and teachers' jobs, not parents' requirements."
George Walden imagined you would have to allow private schools to retain control over their own admissions to persuade them to move into the state sector. This government, however, is achieving this without making that concession.

The left should be delighted. But it seems determined to maintain a Berlin Wall between the public and private sectors at all costs.


Anonymous said...

The John Prescott argument is hilarious. He seems to be arguing for poor schools! Does he not want good schools?

I think the left or well Labour are obsessed with jobs, it doesn't matter if they are good at what they do, keep them employed & doing a job badly just so that they are employed. I wouldn't call myself a right-winger but if you want a job, you have to earn it & be good at it.

Jonathan King said...

Thoroughly agree, perhaps the coalition should be explaining it better, maybe with a little more gusto, as you're entirely right that these arguments are ridiculous.

I've heard though, that the walls between public and private are greatest in the job market. From a teacher friend of mine I learnt that if you've gone private, re-entering the public sector is hard as they regard you with suspicion, as if you've crossed some kind of picket.

Anonymous said...

Since taking up Guardian-reading, I've come to the conclusion that what many (though not all) on the left actually care about is bashing the rich, with helping the poor being either a secondary motivation or a way of achieving the above goal. Perhaps this is another example of that behaviour.