The PM, his son and that private school story. What it tells us.
According to press reports this weekend Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife Samantha are considering sending their son to a private London day school with good links with the PMs own alma mater, Eton College.
David Cameron is of course entitled to choose any school he wants for his child.
It is possible that he will no longer be Prime Minister by the time his son transfers to secondary school. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that stepping down from office might relieve him of the cynical task of pretending he is one of us.
The PM has always given conflicted signals about the state system. Before the 2010 election he said that wasting money on school fees was crazy and that his government would make sure all parents could be more confident in their local schools. After he won power he claimed that there weren’t enough good comprehensive schools in inner London for his children,
Things have moved on a bit since then. His daughter is already at a London girls “comprehensive”, the Grey Coat Hospital School. But it is one of those schools that has far fewer children eligible for free school meals than the average in its local area. It also has a convoluted faith based admissions policy and was recently exposed for linking financial contributions from parents to its admissions process.
There is a local boys comp, Westminster City, rated good by Ofsted, but with a much more inclusive intake than Grey Coat, but it would appear that this school isn't the family's top choice for their son.
Needless to say the paper that broke this story took the opportunity to compare the local boys school unfavourably to Colet Court, the lavish prep school being considered by the Camerons, even though each exists in an entirely different context.
But what does this story tell us about the state of education in this country under his government?
Nearly every secondary school near Downing Street, and the Cameron’s former home in Kensington, is an academy. This type of school, we are constantly told, is superior to all else.
Now it turns out that, while academies are being pushed relentlessly down our throats as the solution to the nation’s educational ills, they may still be not good enough for the Camerons.
The couple could argue that they are just doing the best for their child and going all out for the type of superior education guaranteed to give their child a competitive advantage in life.
This isn’t strictly true of course. Research gathered by the OECD suggests that once the social background of pupils is stripped out, the results in state and private schools are not that different. This implies that teaching is just as good in the state sector and that a boy with young Cameron’s background could do extremely well (for much less money) in his local state school.
He would also be educated with a more inclusive cross section of society, which in itself contributes to a good character forming education.
But what the PM and his wife would get, if they choose the £18,000 pa Colet Court luxury education for their son, is all the extras. Rolling playing fields, lavish facilities for art, drama music and culture are standard offer in the top-notch fee paying schools.
But the Tory funding cuts facing state education, and the narrow academic curriculum favoured by Mr Cameron’s government, mean that these subjects and activities being axed in many local schools.
And possible changes to the funding formula for all schools being proposed by the government will make that problem even worse in London, which also has one of the most active private schools market in Western Europe.
Indeed the chair of the Independent Schools Council recently urged his members to cash in on the misery in state schools to woo even more parents into the private sector.
The fact that the Camerons are considering this option means that after almost six years of a Tory government (and let’s not forget the rhetoric about narrowing gaps and One Nation politics) our school system is as divided as ever. It is a luxury education for the rich, and a pared down version for everyone else.
And as some of us always suspected, David Cameron probably doesn’t really care.
A shorter version of this article appeared in the The Mirror this morning.