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    That Ruth Kelly, eh?

    by Katy on 8th January, 2007 at 7:29 pm    

    So people are a bit annoyed with Ruth Kelly.

    It is something to do with the fact that she has decided to send her child, who has special educational needs, to a private school, rather than relying upon the state system, which she was very positive about back when she was Education Minister.

    I gather that the reason people are a bit put out about this is that Kelly, as a senior minister and ex-Education Minister for the Labour Government (a party which has traditionally been highly negative about private education and those who pay for it), might have been expected to put her money where her mouth was, and arguably still is, and send her child to the same sort of school that the government expects its voters to put up with.

    This is all rather reminiscent of Tony Blair’s support for the state system some years ago. If you remember, he chose the London Oratory School for his children. That is a state-funded Catholic school approximately an hour’s travel from Islington, where they lived at the time.

    You can find the London Oratory’s admissions criteria here. When you look at them, and consider how vastly oversubscribed that school is by children from practising Catholic families alone, and how far away the Blairs were, and the level of involvement/relationship with the school and/or the parish that is required under them, it is difficult not to conclude that generally speaking a child from Islington, even a devout practising Catholic, would have had very little chance of getting into the school… unless, perhaps, that child’s father happened to be rather high up in the Labour Party.

    I don’t know how much the Blairs did for the London Oratory School or for the Parish, of course, but even if they matched the admissions criteria it is clear that they did not seriously consider for a moment sending their children to the sort of schools that their voters’ children have to go to whether they like it or not. Tony Blair, of course, defended his decision on the grounds that he was the first postwar Prime Minister to have sent his children to a state funded school.

    The state system should be up to scratch for all children - gifted, average, below average and special needs. The fact that it isn’t is down to Tony Blair, and Ruth Kelly, and the Labour Goverment as a whole. If you are thinking anything along the lines of “Thatcher’s legacy”, bear in mind that this government has been in power for ten years now and that excuse is starting to wear very thin indeed. They have had plenty of time to undo her various bad magics if that was what they wanted to do.

    It follows that I am not a fan of Ruth Kelly any more than I am of Tony Blair. I don’t like the fact that either of them have opted out of the state system (or played it to the extent that they might as well have opted out). I mean, if the state system isn’t good enough for their children, then shouldn’t they be doing something about it? What with BEING IN CHARGE OF THE COUNTRY and everything? But having said that, I think that Kelly emerges slightly less covered in shame than Blair here. Her child’s extra care would cost the taxpayer many thousands of pounds per year. Kelly could have stayed in the state system and played it for all she was worth, as ministers frequently do with the education system, the immigration process and the NHS. Instead she opted out of the system altogether - a choice which this government does permit parents to make - and is footing the bill herself. She is still a raging hypocrite, but I have more respect for that than for someone who crowbars their children into a state school miles away from where they live and then expects kudos for “supporting the system”. Mind you, “respect” is a relative term here. I suppose I’m so used to the hypocrisy of ministers on either side of the House that I can’t really summon up the invective. You know? If my blood pressure went up every time a politician let the electorate down I’d be permanently hospitalised. Luckily Dr Crippen, who is really rather annoyed about the whole thing, can:

    “This is what New Labour does. They have destroyed the best education system in the world, and they are destroying what used to be the best health care system in the world. But they do not give a toss. Because they, and their families, do not intend to use either of them.”

    So true. If only I’d written that paragraph. But he will probably notice if I pretend I wrote it myself.

    Anyway, the real question is this: when, oh when, oh when, is someone going to start building an education system that gets the best out of every child in this country and properly competes with age-equivalent Continental and American qualifications? Is the answer to promote private education or abolish it altogether? Should there be selection or streaming in primary and secondary state schools? Do we like grammar schools or should they go too? Does or should the existence of private education (as distinct from state-funded grammar schools) have any impact on the quality of education offered by state schools anyway?

    I know that lots of PP readers have children of school age, and there was a very lively and interesting discussion about faith schools following Rohin’s post last week. I would be really interested to hear people’s views on education generally. Go for it. (Politely, please, and nicely.)


    Lots of people both on and off this post are defending Ruth Kelly on the grounds that she is a mother making the best choice for her child. I agree with them. Ruth Kelly, mother, is making entirely the right decision for her child and no parent who had a choice would do otherwise. But she isn’t just a mother, she is a high profile politician and government minister. Ruth Kelly the politician and government minister is part of a party which (a) reviles private education, (b) has actively contributed to the demise of facilities reserved for the specialist teaching of special needs children, (c) expects other parents to live with the facilities that it doesn’t. Ruth Kelly is probably the least offensive of the Labour Party ministers and MPs who have preached state education to the masses whilst quietly shoehorning their children into one kind of special school or another, but if being a good mother to her child means spurning the public services that she promotes as a politician then there must be something seriously wrong with the public services in question. And whose job is it to do something about that?

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    57 Comments below   |  

    1. El Cid — on 8th January, 2007 at 8:25 pm  

      I’m back at work so my capacity to get stuck in is limited compared with last week when I was still in post-crimbo pottering mood. However, I think it’s a fair opp to address this subject head on.
      The problem is that debate is often made difficult by deeply ingrained resentment and anger on the one hand, and unbearable liberal and self-serving hypocrisy on the other.
      So I’ll just chip in with a few points. If I don’t address your counterattacks swiftly, then you’ll know why.

    2. El Cid — on 8th January, 2007 at 8:58 pm  

      1) It’s difficult to comment on Ms Kelly without knowing more about the condition of her child and of the local services. Hence, I’m not angry with her. However, there are strong question marks over what she was thinking while she was presiding over education policy and specialist service cutbacks. I think she has lost sufficient credibility to warrant her dismissal or bar her from future government. Mean what you say, say what you mean, or fuck off.
      2) I would give TB the benefit of the doubt as a) he was party leader and likely to become PM. So not only was it a fair bet that he was set to become a potential Westminster resident, there were also bigger security considerations and b) because — and I didn’t know this until recently. you’ll just have to believe me — my kids go to the same primary state school some of TB’s kids went to (on the Islington/Hackney border). Yes, it’s true (Doh!). Thing is, I know at least one kid last year who went on to the London Oratory. He was an altar boy and his mum is a secretary at the Arsenal. She was also chair of the school PTA. So you don’t exactly have to be PM, even if it’s almost imposs for someone living so far away to get to that school (as it should be)
      3) The actions of Ms Kelly and others before her make people like me think, so why should I bother with the state system?

    3. El Cid — on 8th January, 2007 at 8:59 pm  

      4) The private school system is profoundly brilliant and hugely regressive at the same time. It is polarising and the single biggest obstacle to a free, fair and meritocratic society. Most people working in the higher echelons of the City, media, politics, industry, in law, medicine, etc, are privately educated. So where is this classless society?
      5) Many people who went to private school, and thereby benefitted from privilege, are unable to deal with the subject because they take it personally, as if their achievements or street cred were being undermined. However some — some — are quick to play the downtrodden race or gender card if it suits them.
      6) People on the old codger left wilfully fail to recognise that the comprehensive education system has failed kids and held back social mobility, accentuating point 4. They are also too quick to object to efforts to reinvogorate the system by devolving decision making at a school level.
      7) They also wilfully ignore the fact that a quality education requires a social discipline that is hard to deliver in the inner city or where the parental backup is lacking.
      That’s enough for now.

    4. Sunny — on 8th January, 2007 at 9:06 pm  

      You seem to associate almost everything with ‘liberal hypocrisy’ these days El Cid… are conservatives not capable of hypocrisy? Be interested to hear your thoughts… as I agree with Katy and Dr Crippen on this fully.

    5. ZinZin — on 8th January, 2007 at 9:52 pm  

      Can I ask about the Tomlinson report? as it appears to have disappeared from the debate regarding education policy.

    6. El Cid — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:22 pm  

      conservatives capable of hypocrisy? i dunno, depends whether you’re talking about liberal tories or illiberal tories. anyway, that’s a subject for another day — one that could be extended to law & order matters.
      Am I — on the other hand — capable of hypocrisy? For sure. Is that your point?

    7. Katy — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:38 pm  

      Well, I went to a private school myself briefly, where I was by far the least well off student, and was in fact permanently excluded after two years. After that I went to a comprehensive in my borough, which fortunately for me was a good one: the teaching compared very well to the teaching in the private school, the only difference being that the pupils were such a mixed bag. I was much happier at the comprehensive than I was at the private school.

      I am not necessarily anti private schools, but they used to be there for stupid rich people who wanted to pay through the nose so that they could say their child went to [insert name here]. The state used to offer more of a competitive alternative than it does now. I am concerned that we are reaching a stage where the only way to get your child any sort of viable education is to pay through the nose for it, you know?

    8. Katy — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:39 pm  

      I am not necessarily anti private schools, but they used to be there for stupid rich people who wanted to pay through the nose so that they could say their child went to [insert name here].

      Terrible generalisation, sorry. There have always been awful state schools. Just not as many as there are now.

    9. Don — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:50 pm  

      For all my dislike of Kelly, I’m inclined to give her the benefit on this one, based on the limited facts. It seems she is seeking two years of private special-needs education before the child goes to a state school. Given how long it takes to get statements and placements sorted, and the bickering over whose budget it hits, it was probably only that or pull strings. Publically putting your hand in your pocket seems the more honourable option.

    10. Katy — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:56 pm  

      True, Don, which is pretty much what I say above - but “more honourable” is a very relative term when it’s your government which not only hasn’t made statementing, funding and provision of facilities for special needs children better, but has actively made them or permitted them to become worse.

    11. Katy — on 8th January, 2007 at 10:57 pm  

      I don’t blame her as a mother, not at all, but as a politician I expect some sort of explanation as to why her Labour government has made the educational system so poor that none of them are prepared to use it.

    12. Indigo Jo Blogs — on 8th January, 2007 at 11:00 pm  

      In praise of hypocrisy…

      This morning the Daily Mirror reported that the former Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, had sent her dyslexic son to a special private school because she felt that the provision in her area, Tower Hamlets in east London, was inadequate. As……

    13. El Cid — on 8th January, 2007 at 11:06 pm  

      I’m going to bed now. But Katy, seriously, state education is much better than it used to be in the 1970s/1980s. Just be thankful you grew up in Hampstead or wherever, rather than Harringay and Tottenham. I think this government hasn’t done too bad — especially on primary schools.
      I also suspect that behind the constant criticisms of improving grades is an elitist conspiracy to keep the bulk of university places aside for the wealthy. The more grade As there are, the greater the discretion universities can use to judge potential rather than just conditioned exam success.
      Sure, the rise in youth unemployment since 1987 suggests the academically least able have not been served well. But there are probably other factors behind that too.

    14. Katy — on 8th January, 2007 at 11:17 pm  


      I believe the phrase is “rofl”. It wasn’t Harringay or Tottenham either, mind you, but still - Hampstead…


      I’ll have to take your word on state education in the 1970s and early 1980s. But the declining grades criticisms are well founded. When I did A-Levels (1992-4), our teachers prepared us for the exams by setting us old O-level papers, and we found those very difficult, so even the A-Level of 1994 was considerably easier than 0-levels ten years before, and I can well believe that the worth of grades has slipped further. I think it’s incredibly unfair on today’s students.

    15. Nyrone — on 8th January, 2007 at 11:44 pm  


      Definition of a Politician = Calling up for their own personal taxi, while telling the rest of us to use public transport.

    16. Clairwil — on 8th January, 2007 at 11:59 pm  

      ‘Definition of a Politician = Calling up for their own personal taxi, while telling the rest of us to use public transport.’

      Spot on!

    17. William — on 9th January, 2007 at 12:20 am  

      Ruth Kelly has still sent the rest of her children to state schools and she has argued that her sons condition was such that she felt he would be better served somewhere else. Of course it is still a privalege that someone can afford it and it would still be better if the state can provide good standards for special needs for all. But then how long would she have to wait for it even if things were changed. So while I don’t judge her personally for making this decision now, in the long run there needs to be proper state provision.

    18. William — on 9th January, 2007 at 12:22 am  

      sorry privalege should be privilege

    19. Tahir — on 9th January, 2007 at 1:19 am  

      I went to school in Tower Hamlets and I would think twice before sending my kid to school there. And I would still say this with a professional education hat on. I have utmost respect for kids that do go to school in Tower Hamlets, Hackney etc. But I don’t we should judge people when it comes to their children. And this child after all has additional support needs. I might choose to use public services in another borough altogether as there are huge differences between state provision.

      That’s not an argument to say let’s support the provision of private schools - alternative provision of services makes state system less accountable, not better. The argument that choice improves performance isn’t something I go for - and seems to underlie the education reform efforts in this country since 1989. It’s traditionally the middle classes who can exert pressure on school management and boards to make them more efficient and if they pull out, and find services elsewhere, there is slower improvement over-all.

      In any case, I suspect the real reason for er.. negativity is because people don’t take to Ruth Kelly.

      I recall a certain Ms Diane Abbott sending her kid to a private school and not the Holly Estate in Dalston and there didn’t seem to be a huge fuss . Now again if you know Holly Street you wouldn’t criticise Ms Abbott.

    20. Benjamin — on 9th January, 2007 at 2:05 am  

      The response of one minister was to say that the Labour Party’s aim is to raise the state education system to the standards of the private one.

      But that would mean effectively abolishing the private industry, because its raison d’être is to provide superior education than the state - at a price. If you take away the perceived need for folk to opt out and pay more, you destroy the private sector.

      Conversely, the more folk opt out of the state system (the richer middle classes) the more difficult it is to raise general standards up to the private ones because it undermines support for the state system - the state system could become a shoddy system of last resort. This would further undermine equality of opportunity.

      Hence, whatever Kelly and her kid’s circumstances (and we can all have sympathy), her actions go against the basic ethics of the Labour Party, equal opportunities, and is anathema to the aim of building a strong, comprehensive and inclusive state education system.

      That’s the basic social democratic argument, and its pretty difficult to refute.

    21. douglas clark — on 9th January, 2007 at 8:38 am  

      Oh, here I go again. This could all be sorted with money. And the killing off of the elitist private sector. You are all jumping through hoops to justify the Hooray Henrys jump start in life, down to parental money. A self serving elite if ever there was one. And we do that in the name of freedom?

      Pish. We do that in the name of elitism.

      One amusing point about the Scottish educational system is that the state schools are ‘public schools’. Confuses some metrocentrics something rotten.

    22. douglas clark — on 9th January, 2007 at 8:39 am  

      And don’t get me started on religious schools, contradiction in terms.

    23. Taj — on 9th January, 2007 at 9:20 am  

      I suppose I should speak as a former pupil at a fee-paying grammar school (I hate the term “public” school; it’s a word that is as misdirecting as Dubya’s constant evocations to “freedom” in his speeches). It’s also a little hard to make valid comparisons between the state and independent sector based on individual experiences; those experiences are so very singular and its hard to extrapolate them into something larger. It also doesn’t help that, through most of my schooldays, I was a spotty, socially-inept dreamer divorced from anything approaching the real world (the acne has cleared up now, thank you very much).
      I can’t complain about the education I was given; I had (bar some exceptions) highly competent teachers and access to good facilities. However, there are things that, since I left, have worried me. Being in a fee-paying, all-male grammar school was like being a cocoon of competitiveness and privilege. Places like that still produce the future elites of this country, and it unnerves me that such people might have spent so much time separated from the realities of their peers in the state system. It reminds me of something E.M. Forster once wrote about public schoolboys: “They go forth into it [the world] with well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds, and underdeveloped hearts”. This might seem like a gross generalisation (people after all do continue to develop throughout their lives), but it does tally with my experiences (not that I’m some kind of emotionally scarred former public schoolboy; heavens, no - I can even go into a shop now and ask the serving lady the price of licorice whips. Sometimes. If she doesn’t maintain eye contact. And if I have my bear, Edward, with me.)

    24. Kismet Hardy — on 9th January, 2007 at 11:27 am  

      I went to public school. Two things happen. You either turn gay or you become a junkie

    25. Oli — on 9th January, 2007 at 11:31 am  

      I think its easy to bash Kelly for supporting the state run school system then using private, but in the end it boils down to the fact that anyone wants what is best for their children.

      It is well known that private schools look better on your resume, give you better contacts and have smaller class sizes personal tutorage if you get left behind etc. The simple fact of the matter is that state run schools will never have the funding of the rich to support education to the same degree. This seems to me to be particularly important to a disabled kid who will need every possible advantage to survive in later life.

      While Kelly may indeed have supported the state run school systems it is a clear point of view that it was infact her job, and that any opposing view would have lost her the position, albeit slyly as governments tend to do.

      I think the fact her other children go to a state school is a testament to the woman as it is well known that many schools do not facilitate special needs as well as a private, or specially set up special needs school would. Inparticular a private or private special school would provide a much better opportunity for a child to be taken in for work experience and future job prospects in companies that have positions which a disabled person can manage.

    26. Tahir — on 9th January, 2007 at 12:08 pm  

      OK before anyone slams me this isn’t directed at anyone.

      Public schools also teach that terrible, terrible trait called false humility . Yes, students might go emotionally under-developed - but the future of the country is still determined in the playing fields of Eton. However, I’d be happy to be emotionally backward if that is the only disadvantage one leaves with…

    27. bananabrain — on 9th January, 2007 at 5:14 pm  

      is nobody going to mention this?


      it would make a great post - “political-correctness-gone-mad vs religious hysterics”.


      and, furthermore, if i want to spend my own money on top-up education for my kids rather than trainers or a holiday or something, what right has the state to prevent me from doing so? i’m paying for the state education system out of my taxes anyway, without getting any benefit from it. what the universal provision of almost any state service (with the possible exception of defence) what you are paying for is a “take-a-ticket” system; everyone has an equal chance of being allocated a bad school, doctor, hospital, railway line, tiny pension, etc. in practice these things default to the worst level for everybody, simply because of the ways humans are. it’s called “the tragedy of the commons”. i’m not prepared to sacrifice an advantage my parents have worked for if it disadvantages my own kids. what sort of damfool ideology is that?



    28. Katy — on 9th January, 2007 at 7:11 pm  

      I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t pay for private education if they want to, I’m saying (a) that they shouldn’t feel it is a choice between private education and no education worth having, and (b) that it is a joke that the politicians who have allowed the system to get worse/continue to be crap and who have insisted that it is actually really really great in the face of all evidence to the contrary are then able to use their wages to bail out of the system they sponsored whilst everyone else’s children have to lump it.

    29. Katy — on 9th January, 2007 at 7:12 pm  

      the point being that they are supposedly paid by the taxpayer to maintain a decent standard of public services. It may be the way human beings are, but humans have evolved past a lot of “natural” ways and we ought to be able to evolve past the tragedy of the commons as well.

      Call me an idealist and all that…

    30. Don — on 9th January, 2007 at 9:09 pm  

      Such a contentious issue, and yet I find myself agreeing with almost everybody. The curse of the liberal.

      I agree with Katy’s original post, with reservations. I agree with El Cid’s points #1,#2.#4,#5 & #7. I also strongly agree with his point that education has improved significantly over the past few years, certainly in comparison to the 70’s and 80’s. Apart from anything else, the large cash injection has made real inroads into the scandal of semi-derelict schools which were falling apart around kid’s ears. There is a genuine large scale school building programme underway which will at least give most kids a decent physical environment in which to work. And that matters a lot.

      There are more staff per student (not everywhere, maybe, but over all) and good teachers can now make a decent salary without leaving the classroom to climb the management ladder. We’re much better resourced and training is much more responsive to need. I’ve been a teacher in UK and elsewhere for more than twenty years and this is the best UK education has been in my experience. Of course there are problem areas, but as el cid said, ‘quality education requires a social discipline that is hard to deliver in the inner city or where the parental backup is lacking.’ There are schools which perform amazingly in areas where there are major social problems; that’s generally down to an exceptional head - and ‘exceptional’ means just that.

      But no matter how good state education gets, Oli is right that the rich can always buy a little extra. If every state school reached the level of the best state schools (modest ahem, ‘outstanding’ in recent OFSTED) there would still be those who opted out.

      Oh, and I also agree with Tahir and Douglas. And William.

      Opting out of the state sysyem seems to me to be moivated by three factors:

      #1 The local state system is inadequate due either to local conditions ( adverse social factors have overwhelmed the schools ability to cope with de-socialised kids) or a specific need not being addressed (e.g. special needs provision; dyslexia in particular is simply not recognised by some authorities). Parents will inevitably seek an alternative and seek out private or church schools which filter out the more difficult students and build on a discipline-based ethos only possible with parental support. Who could blame them? (Government ministers aside - I take Katy’s point on that. I also recognise Katy’s point that the government Kelly serves has made moves to downgrade special education under the guise of ‘inclusiveness’)

      Just to clarify my position on church schools: I generally distinguish between long established schools with religious origins, which I regard as being in principle anachronistic and problematic, but which on the whole deliver a service which is in great demand without being excessively divisive and often without any serious sectarian issues (let’s call them ‘category A’) and more recent religious schools whose raison d’etre is indoctrination and isolation. Category B. I’d like the ‘A’ schools to gradually move into line with the state system, bringing there benefits with them but without the sectarian baggage. We have an evolved educational system, there are anomalies but we can live with those and hopefully develop so that getting a decent education doesn’t rely on pay or pray.

      But category ‘B’, schools that exist to ensure that the student is never exposed to different views, or is indoctrinated into the views of an evangelical millionaire who has the ear of government? That gets me spittin’ mad.

      #2. Private schools that exist to perpetuate an elite. Networking, privilege, whatever. I have a good friend who is determined to get her kids into a highly regarded local private school despite the fact that they are at an excellent state primary and due to move to an excellent state secondary (Top 5%, recent Olympic gold medalists among it’s alumni, prize winning choirs and orchestras, lots of Latin, high Oxbridge entry, championship rugger team) simply because of the networking opportunities it will afford them in later life. They are well off, but at 15K per year per kid, that’s not a light commitment. But she reckons that the 200K+ it will cost to see them through will be more that made up by the advantages of going to ‘the right school’.

      I have tried pointing out that a good free education with a 100K cash fund at the end is a hell of a boost for any kid, but the lure of the elite is strong. Try to shut them down and they’ll just move overseas. Isle of Man?, Channel islands? Those who want to become a part of the elite will find a way to do it.

      #3 Schools which exist to seperate the student from their peers, to indoctrinate. It is no secret that the very word ‘Vardy’ will make me incoherent with bile, but the insistence in some quarters that muslim/hindu/christian/jewish/sikh faiths need to seperate their children from the unbelievers in order to flourish is liable to have very negative long-term effects.

      Sorry for the long post, this is a particular area of interest for me.

    31. Katy — on 9th January, 2007 at 10:45 pm  

      Slightly O/T, but there is a ladybird on my laptop. In January. That is weird.

    32. Tahir — on 10th January, 2007 at 6:42 am  

      I don’t agree that that separate schools fuel secret desires to indoctrinate. I happened to go to a comprehensive, with all Bangladeshis children (in London) but that hasn’t meant that every child from my school knows more about all the world’s religions, including secular fundamentalism or doesn’t want to know any non-Bangladeshis. it hasn’t meant I have a parochial view of the world out there. The picture is complicated by an external environment (policy or an public sphere) that fuels indoctrination - this can take place in both comprehensive and faith schools, inside homes, cafes, - in other words, in society at large.

      I wonder if we’re able to apply the old push and pull theory on housing in inner cities to decipher why some families choose faith schools, and others don’t. In my experience talking to many 20 and 30 yr olds who have gone to state schools and are now bringing up their own children - all seem agreed that the local schools are failing their children. Their solution is to send the kids to faith schools. A more upwardly mobile family’s solution might be to send their kids to a private school. Yes, there are few families that might send their kids to faith/private schools, regardless of the quality of local comprehensives, but these tend to be the minority. Most parents want to put their kids education first - their values second. Hence all these politicians facing the stark choice of supporting state education but then sending their kids to private ones.

      It’s also worth reflecting on madrassa type institutions in Pakistan and Bangladesh - most research from the FCO, and aid agencies is showing that poor families send their kids to madrassas because these are cheaper options and because the government schools are failing them.

      It would seem that the anecdotal evidence from East London and research evidence in South Asia from FCO, USAID (the most reactionary of donors) concur on this point.

      So it’s clear to me that we should bolster/improve state system for a number of reasons - but not blame parents for their choices and actions - whether this is a politician or an ordinary person.

    33. bananabrain — on 10th January, 2007 at 11:49 am  

      It’s also worth reflecting on madrassa type institutions in Pakistan and Bangladesh - most research from the FCO, and aid agencies is showing that poor families send their kids to madrassas because these are cheaper options and because the government schools are failing them.
      if this is a problem close to your heart, consider supporting the “friends of the citizen foundation” which is run by a dear friend of mine. it is there to address precisely this gap.


      category a and category b schools - abso-fecking-lutely brilliant. sums up the problem in a nutshell and gives us a supervisory mechanism. i bet it would be tough to draft the legislation though. *sigh*


      that they shouldn’t feel it is a choice between private education and no education worth having
      that’s not what i’m saying - what i am saying is that it is a choice between a good education which is guaranteed by your wallet and a “postcode lottery” in which your chances of getting a good state school are determined by where you live and how well local education and the schools are run and all those other factors. and, of course, in practice this ends up being a question of what you can afford because being in a catchment area for a good school puts up the price of housing with predictable results. moreover, if the local schools are pants and the local residents are mostly rich, the rich people opt for private schools out of the area and people who would prefer the public option are only left with “sink” schools.

      i hope i am not treading on too many toes if i point out that the attitude of the teachers’ unions is not all that helpful either, being mostly doctrinaire, truculent stalinism as far as i can see. on the other hand the attitude of the government to pointless paperwork and bureaucratic centralisation would give them plenty to complain about even in the absence of this.



    34. Tahir — on 10th January, 2007 at 2:53 pm  

      Hmm. Thanks for the link. Checked the link to the Citizen’s Foundation. They, like other NGO-run schools do not tackle the problem over the longer term. It’s government run schools we need to support - not NGO or externall sustained schools.

      If we invest and support isolated schools of excellence like this one, than govt of Pakistan will never feel the need to improve public services in Pakistan. Islands of excellences alone don’t improve a national system - and are only a splash in the ocean. That’s why many international charities stopped building schools and started investing in improving national education systems ( well the good NGos anyway - some still do, but this goes against international trends in good practice, as even the World Bank has now stopped building schools). What’s more useful is improving national teacher training and education management through the govt systems - not one man and his NGO in som remote village.

      That’s the subject close to my heart - improving public services and the alternatives to it simply aren’t sustainable. Which was where we started in this thread before I went off on madrassas..

    35. bananabrain — on 10th January, 2007 at 2:55 pm  

      yeah, they know it’s a stopgap, but it’s an important one i believe.



    36. Tahir — on 10th January, 2007 at 2:58 pm  

      I thought it was a good start in addressing the problem by Pakistani diaspora and not something dreamed up by the Foreign Office.

    37. El Cid — on 10th January, 2007 at 8:29 pm  

      Interesting points.. nothing too contentious, apart from Don’s friend’s position which is both vile and refreshingly honest.
      I am disappointed though that other regular picklers haven’t participated more fully in what is a key matter and you gotta wonder why.
      Minority politics at the end of the day is just that, minority politics. It’s the big stuff which affects us all that has the power to unite.

    38. Kulvinder — on 11th January, 2007 at 5:07 pm  

      I think trying to quieten down the debate by saying her child has special needs is very disingenuous. Its incredibly hypocritical of both her and other labour mps to say one thing and do another. One of the foundations of democracy is a willingness to be sincere to your constituents, if labour mps cannot be true to the principals and philosophy of the labour movement they should resign. The actions of Tony Blair, Ruth Kelly and the like are an implicit endorsement of opposition policies.

      What makes it all the more worse is her qualification that she’ll be paying for the education herself, something the majority of those who elected her could not do. The next step is surely to start paying for private medical treatment. The working class - those Blair, Kelly and Abbott were elected by do not have an MP’s salary, only the promise of a politician.

      I applaud their desire to do the right thing by their children; i despise the political hypocrisy it reveals.

    39. El Cid — on 13th January, 2007 at 12:59 pm  

      Hey Katy,
      I was in your manor last night, in Highgate :) , at a very nice pub called The Flask. I met up with a few mates, including a science teacher at Greig City Academy. A charming and intelligent urban hero who is black, which is not relevant but I’ll bung it in anyway. I’m in awe whenever exposed to his continued enthusiasm for the job.

      On the 5 GCSEs test it is one of the 5 worst schools in the country. In fact, Haringey — where I was born and grew up — has 10% of London’s worst 60 schools. (I know coz I saw it in Da Standard yesterday). But it scores very well on the value added front.

      You may wonder why such a school does so poorly on the exams front. It’s no great revelation to point out that Haringey is one of the most multicultural places in Britain. In fact it holds the record — probably world record — for number of languages spoken. But my mate has no doubt that that is the primary factor — first-generation immigrants, lack of English in the home, varying attitudes to education and British social order, etc. Of course, the extra resources employed to help overcome this means less resources for others who might instead need stretching, which is why natives and many second and third-generation immigrants in the state system might legitimately be cheesed off by simplistic arguments that play up racial integration at the expense of quality of education. It is also why many middle class parents in London (and some Picklers, their parents, Dianne Abbott, Ruth Kelly, etc) might choose to bypass the state system altogether by sending their kids to private school. They may be loath to admit it and would rather run away from the subject, but that’s another matter.

      Here’s a bit more about what the real world looks like for all you wannabe social engineers:

      On the positive side, here’s something for those who think the above “proves” things haven’t improved under the current government:

      P.S. My mate, the teacher, didn’t go to a bog standard comprehensive.

    40. El Cid — on 13th January, 2007 at 1:29 pm  

      I mean it’s the fifth worst in London (joint 14th worst in the country).

    41. Katy — on 14th January, 2007 at 1:23 am  

      I think you misunderstand me - I’m not saying that people should be forced to send their children to bad schools at all. If I were a parent now, and I couldn’t get my children into a grammar school or good faith school, I would go private - if I could afford it. My point is more that that just isn’t a realistic option for most parents, and whilst privately funded schools will always have more bells and whistles it would be nice if state schools were at least slightly more comparable to private schools in terms of level of education than they currently are. My second point is that it is a bit rich for the government to wax lyrical about UK state education whilst not sending their own children there. I agree that Ruth Kelly is a bit of a straw man in that sense because two of her children do go to state schools, but she has sparked an interesting debate.

      I don’t think that exam marks are a good benchmark for judging whether or not a school is good. The question is whether the students are in general happy, healthy, attending most of their classes and achieving everything they can reasonably be expected to achieve. One of the things that annoys me is this government’s insistence that everyone has to go to university; not everyone is academically inclined and university should only be one of a range of options for school leavers.

      This obsession with degrees for every job is absurd. For example, my friend Andy and I both worked for a well-known retail chain part-time whilst we were doing A-levels. Andy really wanted to join the management training scheme at the chain; he had real management skills. Unfortunately, despite the fact that being a retail store manager mainly requires basic maths and considerable hands-on shop floor experience, the management training scheme required a degree. Therefore Andy, who had been managing the shop in the absence of proper managers for about two years, started an accountancy degree at the local ex-poly. Three years later and several thousand pounds’ worth of debt (and this was when you still got your fees paid AND a grant), he graduated with a third-class degree in a subject in which he had absolutely no interest, so that he could carry on doing the job that he had done since he was 16. Insanity.

      (By the way, I have to admit that, like El Cid, I am vaguely surprised that the Picklers aren’t more interested in the subject of education generally.)

      *crosses “education” off list of things to blog about*

    42. Sunny — on 14th January, 2007 at 4:18 am  

      No no no, just because there isn’t more discussion on this topic (from me partly because you, Katy, say what I want to anyway), I feel its still important to blog about. Damn the discussion statistics.

    43. douglas clark — on 14th January, 2007 at 10:44 am  


      I’d just like to support your comment about a degree mad employment environment. Many years ago, I worked for the government in an Executive Officer type post. When i left, they gave me a glowing reference, so I can’t have been too bad at it. Now, I couldn’t even apply, unless there is some back door method that equates professional qualifications with degrees. Which I got after I left, and would be irrelevant anyway. Much as many degrees are irrelevant to the jobs being advertised.

    44. ZinZin — on 14th January, 2007 at 12:23 pm  

      I agree degrees are not worth the paper they are written on.

      I would like the education system to raise the status of vocational skills which have always been considered inferior to academic skills. This is despite plumbers earning 70k and white collar work now being poorly paid ie I earn 9k as a part time clek for my local council.

    45. El Cid — on 14th January, 2007 at 1:05 pm  

      There’s a lot of what you say that I agree with and my post wasn’t aimed at you, just the quip about Highgate which followed an earlier reference to Hampstead (they say that if you have to explain a joke it’s not a very good joke).
      However, we both know that I have raised some uncomfortable truths that should be confronted by liberals who need to get out of their consensual bourgoise comfort zone, especially if they are looking at a problem from the outside and not from within. It’s not just the immigrant angle — it’s also whether liberal teachers can the best out of boys. (i.e. Most boys are heterosexual he-men — deal with it).
      If that sounds provocative — it’s meant to be. And if people don’t want to take the bait, then that’s cool too. I’ll stay and here and talk to myself until the cows come home or I am effectively barred.
      But here’s something that I hope is more disarming: second and third generation immigrants in general are in a very good position to drive the debate. We have aspirations too. Where’s our Mrs Thatcher? (hmm, that might also sound provocative, but it isn’t meant to be. Think about it). Where are the working class heros? Why is academic achievement not revered in the inner city and why is sport as disciplining force overlooked?

      P.S. Yes, vocational qualifications are underrated. Your points are well made Katy, although I understand why employers should insist on degree education as a necessary rite of passage. Still, they could show more flexibility.
      Two questions come to mind 1) Were secondary moderns better at delivering plumbers etc or is the imbalance in supply/demand related to the fact that white upper-working class men with the skills to pass on through apprenticeships have been reluctant to take on immigrants in recent decades? 2) Why is plumbing always used as the example? Why not software design, PC maintanance, book-keeping, customer care and the art of dealing with complaints, etc?

    46. Chairwoman — on 14th January, 2007 at 2:05 pm  

      El Cid - Ah, The Flask, many happy memories of Sunday lunchtime drinks outside the flask with an extremely small Katy in tow. Of course Sting had not yet lowered the tone of the neighbourhood by building his stockade :-)

      Just a comment on vocational qualifications versus degrees. Not everybody can be academic. There are just as many people bored by literature, history et al as are enthralled by it. These peoples are tortured by being forced to stay at school listening to subjects in which they have no interest whatsoever. Because they are bored they tend not only to fail at the subjects, which is demoralising, but become disruptive and complicate things for keen students. They are also not taught anything that interests them, or that will assist them in finding gainful employment.

      IMHO the result of keeping people at school until they are eighteen, and then sending them out in the world as academic failures is to create a ready-made underclass.

      Were secondary modern schools better at creating artisans than the current system? Of course they were. People had lessons that prepared them for skills they could use in employment, metal work, bookeeping, secretarial skills, etc. They left school employable, not failed academics. No other country, to the best of my knowledge, tries to make all its citizens graduates. But the no other country had a leader who deliberately destroyed its manufacturing industry, shipbuilders and coal mines in a personal and ideological vendetta against trades unions and the working class.

    47. Don — on 14th January, 2007 at 2:41 pm  

      OK, I’ll rise to that particular bait,

      ‘ whether liberal teachers can the best out of boys. (i.e. Most boys are heterosexual he-men — deal with it).’

      The implied premise being that liberalism is inherently non-masculine? That conservatives are more in tune with heterosexuality? I know this is a common theme with right-wing American pundits (and Arnie’s ‘girlie men’) but I don’t think it is a useful path to follow.

      ‘Why is academic achievement not revered in the inner city?’ Fair question, and some of the answers will be predictable. But a more productive approach might be to ask ‘Why are some schools succesful where others with a similar demographic profile are not?’ Clearly the government thought that a cash injection, a highly paid ’superhead’, a millionaire patron, church involvement and a christian ethos would do the trick, but as your link to the Greig City Academy failure shows, it is not sufficient in itself.

      Schools inevitably have to cope with behavioural and attitudinal issues from the community they serve. Some cope well, others badly. Either way that process of coping is a huge drain on time resources and energy which should have been directed at the core business of teaching.

      There is always a lot of talk about the ‘ethos’ of a school and its relationship with the ‘community’, but I am reasonably certain that if you attempt to impose upon a community an ethos originating in, say, the religious convictions of a millionaire patron then it will be seen as alien and irrelevant.

      One of the main reasons for a school failing to overcome its problems it retaining staff. A high turnover of staff, a high proportion of (cheaper) NQT’s, a lot of (expensive) agency cover, foreign teacers who only intend to stay a year or two - all of these mean a workforce without continuity, without the informal communication systems between individuals and departments, lack of local knowledge, lack of developed personal relations with students and their families, a lack of the commitment it takes to put up with frequent abuse and occasional violence and still show up with energy levels high and a determination to do more than just make it through the day.

      Just a few thoughts.

    48. El Cid — on 14th January, 2007 at 3:00 pm  

      Thank you Don
      Two little things:
      1) Why do liberals have such a problem with contact sports like boxing? Why is the system hemoragghing male teachers? Why is PE not in the stats? Why are boys being demonised in the press?
      (Your ref to the American right cuts no ice because I and others have arrived at this view independently. Be wary of drifting to far away from the concerns of ordinary folk. New Labour recognised that and at least tried to re-engage with its traditional constituancy).
      2) That school used to be called St David & St Katherine (COE).

    49. Don — on 14th January, 2007 at 5:30 pm  

      ‘Why do liberals have such a problem with contact sports like boxing?’

      I wasn’t aware that they had. You mean in schools? I shudder to think was the risk assessment would look like, let alone the insurance premiums. My last school did try to introduce fencing, which I thought was a good idea (I used to be quite deft with an epee), but it didn’t work out. Or do you mean boxing in general? I’ve no particular interest in the sport myself, although I’ll make an exception if it’s a British contender in a title fight. Some people, it is true, want boxing banned. Chiefly the BMA, which I hadn’t thought of as a bastion of liberalism. It’s possible you’re right and I just missed the memo. If you are right there’s a bright side; boxing is banned in Cuba, North Korea and Iran, maybe that’s a symptom of a liberalising trend in those countries?

      Or did you mean all contact sports? That will come as news to many liberal rugby players I know. And by the way, a keen interest in contact sports is not a guarantee of heterosexuality.

      ‘I and others have arrived at this view independently.’ Which view, that holding liberal political opinions is incompatible with masculinity? We’re going to have to agree on a common definition of ‘liberal’ as we are clearly working from different premises.

      As for hemorrhaging male teachers, I don’t have the stats to see if there really is that big a sex differential in those leaving the profession. If there is I’m sure there are many factors. For example, is it possible that male teachers find it easier to make a mid-career change than female? That male teachers tend to be more heavily represented in the, generally more fraught, secondary sector? Anecdotaly, I’d say that male teachers are far more prone than females to make the two worst mistakes a young teacher can make, mistakes that can so increase your difficulties that you might well flee the profession.

      The first mistake is trying to be their friend, opening up. Bad mistake. Although few carry it as far as the now almost legendary NQT who eagerly told his staff room coleagues that he had felt such a sense of bonding with his Year Nine PSHE class that he had decided to share with them the fact that he too was a virgin.

      The second mistake is that of seeing every act of indiscipline as a personal challenge to their personal authority, indeed their manhood. Getting all confrontational with a lippy oik and issuing ultimata which they can’t back up. Even if you succeed in brow-beating a dissaffected fourteen year old, try to use that as a standard MO and you burn out in three years. it’s a system, situations arise; recognise them, anticipate them, plan for them, deal with them, move on. It ain’t about you.

      ‘Why is PE not in the stats?’ Don’t know, wasn’t consulted.

      ‘Why are boys being demonised in the press?’ Because the press find that demonising a group is good for business? Which sections of the press are most guilty of this, the ‘liberal’ press or the right-wingers?

      ‘ That school used to be called St David & St Katherine (COE).’

      Was it better before it became an academy? I’ve only read the report you linked to, the schools own website and the ‘04 OFSTED report (which showed a school with management and staff retention problems but many good points) I don’t want to criticise colleagues on a thumbnail sketch, but only 712 pupils? It’s generally the bigger schools where the major problems develop. Does your mate confirm that things are as bad the newspaper article suggests?


    50. Don — on 14th January, 2007 at 6:03 pm  

      I think I can safely say I’ve played ball, El Cid, so see you on:


    51. Katy — on 14th January, 2007 at 8:45 pm  

      Highgate is physically not far away from me, but in all other senses far beyond my reach :-D

    52. Katy — on 14th January, 2007 at 8:49 pm  

      Although few carry it as far as the now almost legendary NQT who eagerly told his staff room coleagues that he had felt such a sense of bonding with his Year Nine PSHE class that he had decided to share with them the fact that he too was a virgin.

      Oh god.

      When I was at school we frequently got out of PE if it was taught by a male teacher by telling him we had period pains. Some of us had period pains two or three times a month, but they were too embarrassed to call us on it.

    53. El Cid — on 14th January, 2007 at 9:00 pm  

      Nice try Don, and really I’m grateful for your comments, some of which were amusing.
      I’ll just pick one because I’m not into disingenous debating-society level point-scoring. I’m more interested in shaking the tree by challenging the middle class liberal consensus which often feels as if it was devised, reworked, and inherited by generations of public school and grammar school boys and girls with their snouts in the trough of privilege and detached from the reality of everyday life for most Londoners (and no doubt Geordies too).
      “A keen interest in contact sports is not a guarantee of heterosexuality.”? Right. I didn’t realise I had actually said otherwise. Don’t get so defensive dear.
      You’ve played ball have you? Really? Really really? I don’t think you have at all.

      OK, on second thoughts, I feel obliged to address some of your other “points”. But I’m doing it reluctantly, so don’t engage me in petty ping pong.
      I’ll ignore the anecdotal stuff. I’ll just take your word for it, although I can see how macho posturing is not to be recommended in a school environment (You will not be surprised to hear that I’ve seen the odd teacher beaten up. I could go on but it’s not for the squeamish).
      I’ll also ignore your facetious response to the PE stats.
      Here’s one link that will help on the male teachers shortage question: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23373976-details/Discipline+fears+as+female+teachers+outnumber+male+peers+by+12+to+1/article.do
      As for boys being demonised in the press; that’s the liberal press and TV I’m afraid, falling over themselves to play up just how well girls are doing and knocking those nasty boys time and time again. It might have been justified once, but its getting repetitive and annoying. More to the point, it is unhelpful and, as we all, ignores the fact that there is more emphasis on coursework than there used to be.
      “It’s generally the bigger schools where the major problems develop. Does your mate confirm that things are as bad the newspaper article suggests?”
      That newspaper article is a few years old and, as I said the school, scores highly on the value-added front. Is it worst than it used to be? Depends how far you go. Back in my day it was pretty ok — for Haringey that is — but there are fewer schools in the borough than there used to be (my one was closed in the 1980s) and there would have been many new waves of first gen immigrants since then. It would be unfair of me to say more since I don’t teach there. Now go back to #39 and let’s start again (It’s not you but the London-based second-gen immigrant liberals that I’m aiming at. But hey, you’ll do, even if you seem to know little about the big melting pot city).

      Now I will go over to that intellectial-wanking thread you mentioned and write something just for you Don. Consider it a gesture. Let’s see if others are prepared to open up back here. To paraphrase a recent comment, it will not be the end of civilisation if they do, but it could be start of something beautiful.

    54. Don — on 14th January, 2007 at 9:22 pm  

      Feel free to shake the tree and challenge, mate. I’m always up for that.

      ‘You’ve played ball have you? Really? Really really? I don’t think you have at all.’

      I had to, it was compulsory. So if it gives you any satisfaction, yes, I have had my face trodden into the mud by hearty rugger-buggers. And been expected to grin and bear it. I said I knew people who enjoyed rugby. For me it’s a recurrent nightmare.

      ‘middle class liberal consensus ‘. Which you have not yet defined. Sorry, is this debating society ping-pong or just asking for clarification?

      ‘…snouts in the trough of privilege’ Yep, that would be me.

      ‘I’ll ignore the anecdotal stuff.’ That’s why I flagged it is anecdotal. It wasn’t presented as part of the argument, it was anecdotal. Just chat.

      ‘I’ll also ignore your facetious response to the PE stats.’

      It wasn’t facetious. I really have no idea and there is no reason why I should pretend otherwise.

      ‘that’s the liberal press and TV I’m afraid,’

      Any chance of links? No hurry.

      ‘that intellectial-wanking thread you mentioned ‘

      It’s been a long day, remind me. I think I’ll get an early night. We’ll catch up later, no doubt.

    55. El Cid — on 14th January, 2007 at 9:34 pm  

      God Don,
      I’m still working on my post on the other thread.
      I think you misunderstood my ref to playing ball.. I didn’t mean literally.
      As for demonising of boys in the liberal press and TV: well, you are clearly not convinced by what I’m saying. I’ll get back to you, maybe.. seems overwehelmingly obvious to me. Seems to be the angle journos pick up on again and again.. I’m honestly surprised you think otherwise.
      OK, I’ll get back to you, in time, maybe
      Back to the religion thread I go, reluctantly…

    56. Don — on 14th January, 2007 at 10:00 pm  

      ‘I think you misunderstood my ref to playing ball.. I didn’t mean literally.’

      Sorry, really don’t mean to be obtuse, but you’ll have to spell it out to me. I thought we were talking about contact sports.

    57. El Cid — on 15th January, 2007 at 5:19 pm  

      When you referred to playing ball in #50, did you mean literally? No
      OK, when I next referred to playing ball, it came after a reference to contact sports. Maybe I sahould have out a paragraph break in there.
      However, having subsequently said that I didn’t mean it literally, why bother with #56?
      I’m getting bored with this now — until next time.

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