Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Alan Johnson and Private Schools

I never thought this day would happen. Finally, a Labour Education Secretary has made some positive, realistic noises about Britain's education system. Far from seeing the destruction of the private schools as a socialist shibboleth, Alan Johnson actually recognises the benefits that they provide to many:

He said: "I don't think it is betraying the human race to send your child to private school.
"But I do believe we have to want the state sector to be as good or even better."

The furore has been caused because Johnson assisted one of his constituents in finding a private school for her son - "She just doesn't have a suitable school close at hand and he is a very bright boy who wants to do science." To me, the assistance Johnson has given is entirely right, and what any responsible MP should be doing.

Private education, of course, is one of the remaining bugbears of the socialists. Gordon Brown famously railed against Oxbridge accepting private school students in the numbers they do - despite the fact that the example of "bias" he picked turned out to be anything but. Yet despite their supposed belief in the state sector, Labour MPs seem very bad at trusting their local state schools with the education of their children. Oliver Letwin was chided when he said he would go out on the streets and beg rather than send his children to a Lambeth comprehensive, yet MPs like Harriet Harman, Tony Blair and Diane Abbott are all prepared to send their children to selective or fee-paying schools.

It is a peculiarly British mentality that aims at the destruction of its best schools. The iconic schools, like Eton and Harrow, do command unimaginable resources. But there is a quality to their education, too, that is something that the state sector should aspire to emulate. The question should not be "how can we destroy good schools?" but "how can we make our bad schools more like the good ones?"