Is supporting your local state schools a conservative as much as a socialist concept?

Nigel Ford's picture
I was giving the idea some thought while working out at my Fitness First gym, with the excercise stimulating my brain cells.

Our children were educated at the local primary school just a 5 minute walk from our house some 20/25 years ago when there were no league tables to compare the SAT ratings with other schools not that it would have influenced our decision. When it came to deciding the secondary school for our eldest, aged 11, back in 1995 we decided to support the local comprehensive school despite the choice of other comprehensive schools with better GCSE results in the area or going private which would have really stretched our finances.

The decision was made on the basis that a child’s academic outcome is largely determined by the genes he/she inherits together with their home background although the standard of school teaching is obviously an important factor too and I think there are good and a few bad teachers in both the state and private sector. But I come down on the nature rather than nurture side that holds sway in the education debate which is a largely held conservative principle. It’s also a reason why I think kids can succeed at comprehensive schools as much as selective grammars/private.

As a conservative who believes that at least 35-40% of GDP should be sent on state services for public transport, pensions, NHS and education, and having contributed to these services by taxation through the fruits of my labour I didn’t want to pay out again for private education. Seeing value for money is probably construed as a Thatcherite policy as she was a great advocate of good housekeeping.

The other factor which influenced our decision was the social development of our kids and I felt very strongly that they should get a mixing with as wider spectrum of children as possible and the best vehicle for this was the comprehensive rather than private model. Now I’m prepared to admit that this is probably more of a socialist way of thinking than conservative.

It just makes me think that too many conservatives denigrate state education as a socialist principle when perhaps conservatives should be coveting it as much by promoting community values through support for the local state school as part of David Cameron’s “big society.”
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 12/01/2011 - 23:35

This is a very interesting post. I am quite politically ambivalent, and wouldn't like to categorise myself as "left" or "right". There is something inherently "conservative" (I mean with a very small 'c') about the notion of a good local school for all; the local school should be a place of stability, of discipline, of committed teachers, involved parents, of community values, of nurture, of safety, perhaps resistant to fads and fashions. I find it fascinating how Gove is actually the anti-thesis of this; he wants to uproot traditional structures and make sure that education is constantly unstable, with never-ending competition between schools going on. It's not a "paternalistic", traditionally Conservative position at all; it's libertarian.

Dominic Self's picture
Wed, 12/01/2011 - 23:44

There's an awful lot of truth in this, and I particularly agree with your comment Francis. I would put myself on the 'left', but I can certainly see that good local comprehensives embody many of the values which conservatives hold to. (And I've been arguing for a while that, in a parallel universe, selection by ability would be see as a leftist menace - the 11+ representing the worst excesses of a cold state bureaucracy blindly tearing up local communities to suit centralised targets.)

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