Friday, February 08, 2008

George Osborne, private schools and progressive politics

The really disappointing aspect of George Osborne’s decision not to send his children to his local state primary school (which in an interview for the Independent he said that he did) is the undeserved damage such a decision can make to the reputation of the state system. Mr Osborne has, in the past, spoken of the importance of state education, indeed in May of last year he told the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange: “We believe each child, whatever their background, should have access to the same opportunities in a state-funded system.” Who could disagree with that? However it would appear that the Osbornes are of the view that such opportunities cannot be provided for their own children by their local state primary. What exactly did Mr and Mrs Osborne base their decision on? Was it simply on the raw results of the local schools? Are the primary schools in their local area under-performing given the prior attainment of the pupils on entry or is that the local schools are not adding sufficient value to the pupils’ education? A quick glance at the 2007 league tables for the schools in the Osborne’s catchment area indicates that the vast majority of schools are doing a very good job in terms of raw results as well as any of the value-added measures.

In fairness it is not unreasonable that any parent should want their child to do as well at school and in life as they have done themselves, often they want them to do better. In a free society if some parents choose to secure advantage and privilege by sending their children to elite schools there is little the state can do about it. The disappointing aspect of what Mr and Mrs Osborne have done is to take the bold decision (like Dianne Abbott before them) to become part of the problem, rather than seeking to be part of the solution. George Osborne knows all too well that British public schools have always been a production line for the class system. They employ some of the best-qualified teachers, with as many as two-thirds educated in the top 20 British universities. They can - and do - raise their fees steadily, they select their pupils; have a growing endowment income from their benefactors and some of the most impressive sporting and extra-curricular activities. What's more they now recruit from a middle-class obsessed by perceived educational and social advantage

Cameron’s avowed intention to send his children to state schools was an encouraging signal that the Tory party was indeed beginning to change. The really telling – and somewhat sad - truth about the decision of the Osbornes not to stay in the state sector is that it reinforces the view that those who do have influence, those who really do have a "voice" in our society have such a high stake in the current order they will seek to mobilise and organise in order protect it.

David Cameron wishes to paint himself and his party as progressives. What he now needs to reflect on is the fact that when parents like the Osbornes abandon the state sector in favour of the private, it is conservative and not progressive politics that triumphs.


a very public sociologist said...

I completely agree. It's disappointing a number of Labour MPs do the same as Osborne as well.

It's high time private education in this country was abolished.

mutleythedog said...

I agree as well - its very disappointing..