Labour’s ability to shoot itself in the foot at present seems to know no bounds.
With its party conference now in full swing we have witnessed to a series of self-inflicted disasters from the opposition culminating in the party’s latest risible policy on private schools, which emerged from the membership over the weekend.
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Party members voted to commit the party to integrate private schools into the state sector with both the funds and properties held by fee-paying schools to be “redistributed democratically and fairly”.
It also wants to limit the amount of privately educated children being admitted to university.
Now, do not for a second imagine this week’s column is a defence of the virtue of public schooling.
Like everybody in my family I am state educated. I would not chose to send my children to fee-paying schools, even if I could afford it. And I think that all children should have access to the best education possible.
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My objection to this ill-considered policy is that it will not only prove totally unworkable, but also that it is actually highly divisive.
I am not alone in considering it unworkable. Banning private schools would be resisted extremely heavily by the schools themselves and the parents of those who attend them.
The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference has already said that such a policy would be subjected to lengthy court battles which it claimed would last for years.
While this may be a boon for the legal profession it is hard to see any winners from instigating such a battle.
The issues around public schools and property rights are a good debate but let us be absolutely clear that nurseries are in a similar situation. The same goes for some universities and training institutions.
And what of those who earn a living as private tutors? Are they to be exempt?
The policy is born out of something which has far too big an influence in politics at the moment, something that is corroding the national debate from both left and right; ideology.
Labour is equating private school with, essentially, people it just doesn’t like very much. It is worth noting how quickly it was pointed out by senior party personnel just how many members of the current cabinet were privately educated (while conveniently forgetting that Diane Abbott’s son was sent to a fee paying school).
I had never met anyone privately educated until my first few weeks at university.
The stories of lavish gap years were incredible, especially as I had spent most of the summer prior to matriculating at university working countless hours in a local bakery.
However I quickly made many friendships with those who had enjoyed private education, many of which last to this day.
Their background meant little to me as did mine to them. All I was concerned with was their character. They did not ask for the education they received and, by enlarge, the majority of them came from extremely hard working families who had absolutely busted a gut to ensure their children enjoyed a better education than they did, a far cry from the lazy stereotype of imagining all private school children are from extremely wealthy and privileged backgrounds.
There are currently 600,000 children in private education in the UK. Aside from the obvious logistical issue of finding all of those kids places, we must ask why they should have the schooling disrupted to prove an ideological point.
Rather than demonise them and their families we should ensure that we focus less on those at the top end of education and more on the bottom end.
I never saw my state education as anything other than a great start to life and I am proud of how I was taught.
But it does not define me.
The same should apply to all children, regardless of the wealth of their parents.
Bruce Springsteen, who turned 70 this week, once remarked that “nobody wins unless everyone wins”. Labour needs to start listening to the real Boss.