Toby Young's latest attack on the Local Schools Network in his Telegraph blog
tries to lampoon us as "left-wing nutters". Cut behind all his silly verbiage, sneering innuendo and self-publicising grand-standing and you find that the thing he really resents is that we believe that EVERY child should go to a great local school. He is, at heart, an "elitist" who wants to educate his "chosen few" -- and leave the rest to rot. If he was really serious about helping ALL children, he would put all of his energies into supporting his local secondary school. It's already a very good school -- even by his own admission -- but think how it could have benefited from his support in the media, from the backing of his wealthy and influential friends?
In Finland, which I visited a couple of weeks ago, people like Toby Young -- wealthy, well-connected media types -- all send their children to the local school and give these schools their full support. It's actually a very "conservative" country -- extremely Lutheran in its attitudes. The concept of "civic duty" is very strong: well-off parents know the importance of "buying in" to their local school because if they do, they help not only their children but other children as well. They believe in helping children from less advantaged backgrounds than their own. They do this because they are actually quite "conservative"; they want to preserve the integrity and cohesion of local communities. So much research shows that when schools have a real mixture of abilities and backgrounds every child benefits; standards go up across the board. The Finnish are certainly not "left wing nutters" -- and they have the best education system in the world.
As Toby Young has already noted, I used to believe that a "voucher type" system, a Free School system, was the best way of improving standards. But looking back now, if I put my hand on my heart, I would have to admit I was an "elitist": I actually thought that segregating my child from the rest of the local community in Bethnal Green would benefit him and me. But over time, I came to see that we were ALL losing out: his private school was rotten, he was unhappy, and we were dreadfully isolated in the community, parachuting him in and out of school. I took him out of the private school and have found that he is much, much happier in the local state primary (the absolutely crucial thing for any parent) and doing much better academically because the teachers at his school are AMAZING. Next year, he will go to the local secondary school, which is really improving. I am not a "left-wing nutter", and like Nigel Ford who blogs regularly on the site, I have been a bit of a Tory in the past, and actually voted Lib-Dem in the election. I actually feel quite "conservative" with a small 'c'; I believe in conserving communities, building upon existing foundations, doing my civic duty, helping others less fortunate than myself, not denigrating them. I know my child will bring a lot to his new school -- and will receive a lot too.
I feel proud that I am doing my civic duty by sending my child to the local school and much stronger and happier as a person as well. I want to thank Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn, whose inspirational writing about comprehensives really changed my views: they made me a better person. I feel proud to know Henry Stewart who is so valiantly combating, with his staff and pupils, the terrible blight of homophobia and intolerance that exists in our society. They may well be left-wing, but they are the opposite of "nutters"; they are good, decent people who are doing the right thing for our society.