Monday, 8 January 2007

Thoughts on the Ruth Kelly story

I'd be fascinated to hear of any Labour undertaking, ever, to abolish private schools. The endless internal debates are about the structure of the state system, which educates 94% of children, giving the lie to the profoundly offensive, but routine, suggestion that the parents of that tiny number "pay all the bills in this country" (in fact, they include as good as all the tax-dodgers, the super-rich having been made practically tax-exempt by the allegedly left-wing Gordon Brown), and also to the ludicrous, but astonishingly common, definition of private school pupils and their parents as "middle-class". The "middle" of what, exactly?

That said, only last month he Labour MP and former Aviation Minister, Karen Buck, withdrew her 13-year-old son in disgust from one of the Government's "flagship" City Academies (one, moreover, of which her husband is a governor). Meanwhile, only the day before, the Government had announced that "Gifted and Talented" pupils would be able to buy "e-credits" for extra lessons in such things as Mandarin, and a programme run by NASA. Furthermore, since fully one third of schools have simply ignored the "Gifted and Talented" programme up to now, they are all now to be required to identify for this purpose the top ten per cent of their pupils in academic terms, a total of around 800,000 in the country as a whole.

So how about this for a wheeze? Each primary school's top ten (or, better, twenty or twenty-five) per cent of pupils, thus identified, might be admitted to a whole secondary school for children like them, where such lessons were an integral part of the curriculum, so that there was no need for "e-credits".

Heaven knows what we might call such an institution, but there are two reasons why none such will ever be set up. First, a national network of such schools would put most fee-paying schools out of business within ten years, and a lot of them well before that. And secondly, no such system could operate without powerful Local Education Authorities. Opponents of fee-paying schools, and supporters of LEAs, think on.

But also think on, those of you who insist on buying a pup by sending your children to schools which purport to offer exclusive access to the best universities. No university in this country admits even predominantly from the fee-paying sector. Not one. Is it time to call in the Serious Fraud Office?

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