Now that the debate over grammar schools is heating up once again, we can expect to be bombarded by steaming heaps of Leftist sanctimony. Jeremy Corbyn will come out strongly against them and we’ll be subjected to the usual platitudinous bilge about making every school a good school (why didn’t I think of that?!) and how grammars create an unequal society.
It’s easy to talk about how much one loves the idea of equality, but in every socialist society, just as in any plutocracy, there is “equality” in mediocrity for the proles and a special reserve of luxuries for the elite. This is never more plain to see than in an education system based on the fatuous ideals of egalitarians. The Left has a long and inglorious of hypocrisy on education that thoroughly discredits their claims to the moral high ground.
Many of the key figures of the Labour party have sent their children to selective schools. This includes the shadow Home Secretary and the Shadow Attorney General who sent their children to private schools, and the shadow Foreign Secretary and Director of Communications who sent theirs to selective state schools.
This is nothing new.
Under Miliband’s opposition the former TV host come Blairite poster boy, Tristram Hunt, the privately educated former Shadow Education Secretary, was fervently opposed to grammar schools and free schools (which have been a roaring success). Yet during the 2015 General Election campaign he admitted that he would consider sending his own children to a private school. During the same campaign, Conservative grammar opponent Nicky Morgan also said it should be okay for an Education Secretary to send their children private because: “you do what’s right for the child”.
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Indeed, Left wingers like to do “what’s right” for their own children even if it violates the dogma they push on the rest of us. Politicians are forced to worry about the political difficulty of sending their children to private schools, and their socialist supporters (intellectuals and luvvies) worry about the damage to their image. There are countless Labour politicians who have spent their careers destroying or denouncing grammars and independent schools before sacrificing their ideology (and exposing their hypocrisy and insincerity) for the sake of their children.
Tony Crosland, the sneering socialist whose spiteful dogmatic aim was “to destroy every f***ing grammar school in this country” – which he just about managed to do – sent his children to a private school. So did Shirley Williams, another visionary of the comprehensive system who wrecked education in the 70’s. Harold Wilson and James Callaghan both sent their children to private schools, as did Diane Abbott and Ruth Kelly. Dear old firebrand Harriet Harman snubbed her local comprehensive and sent her sons to a grammar school in Kent.
The nerve of these people!
Tedious intellectuals and celebrities follow suit. Claud Cockburn the lifelong Stalinist Communist paid for private education for all three of his sons. As did prominent Guardianistas Janet Murray and “three homes” Polly Toynbee. Channel Four’s Leftist anchor Jon Snow did the same. Watching Shami Chakrabarti lamely try to defend sending her to an £18,000 private school was positively cringeworthy.
There is a near endless line of barristers, media folk, political advisers and academics living by the rule of “do what I say, not as I do”. Long will it continue while we still have to listen to them harp on about what’s best for us.
The alternative is to play the comprehensive system. This allows opponents of selective education to say they sent their children to a comprehensive even though the school is an elitist institution reserved for the wealthy (often a faith school and never the local school). This is a common but transparent ploy employed by Labour and, increasingly, the left of the Tory party.
Tony Blair chose the London Oratory, a high-performing elite faith school in Fulham. Michael Gove snubbed his local school, Burlington Danes, despite all the praise he lavished on it. He sent his daughter to an elite girls only Church school, the Grey Coat Hospital, which is much further from his home. David Cameron pulled a similar trick and got undeserved plaudits for sending his daughter to St Mary Abbots Primary School, an exclusive Church of England establishment off Kensington High Street. These are not ordinary comprehensives; they are highly exclusive intuitions reserved for the wealthy that are selective by nature if not in name.
As the dogmatic campaign to stop any new grammars opening is ramped up, we need to question why so many politicians advocate a certain type of school but refuse to put their money where their mouth is. Instead, they put their money in the hands of private schools, or into property close to a grammar or an elite comprehensive reserved for the rich, far removed from the type of institution they think is best for everyone else.
Opponents to selective institutions are inspired by an ideological zeal yet, without an ounce of self-awareness, claim that their proponents are blinkered ideologues. If we’re so blinkered why is it the anti-grammar campaigners that are utterly blind to the fact that so many of their objections to grammars (that the system favours the wealthy) equally apply to the comprehensive system? Selection by post code favours the affluent and mobile, who know exactly how to game the system.
Grammar schools are not the answer to inequality and inadequacies in the education system; there is no single answer. We can only hope to alleviate them, because perfection is unachievable. What we need is a multi-layered solution; introducing diversity and innovation into the system and allowing parents freedom of choice.
We need a liberated, innovative and experimental education system. This should include comprehensives, free schools, grammar schools and even – shock horror – privately owned non-profit and for-profit schools.
Politicians need to get out of the way and the state needs to loosen its grip. The type of schools that open should be driven by demand and they will stand or fall according to the success or failure to educate their pupils and attract new entrants. Free the system and let it operate according to what works, not the whims and ideals of Ministers.
Ben Kelly is an Executive Director of Conservatives for Liberty.