Blair only cares about pushy middle-classes

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Hurrah for John Prescott. At last, someone willing to stand up to the bullies of Blair's inner circle. The reports this weekend of the Deputy Prime Minister refusing to back Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's plans to further extend the influence of parent power into schools are worth cheering, if true.

Cast as the clown, Mr Prescott has evolved into the Shakespearean "honest"

jester, his antics acting as critical counterpoint to the machinations of the court. Let's hope that his wise, if undoubtedly mangled, words will pierce the cocoon of self-righteousness that has protected the Blair administration for too long.

It is not surprising that the voice of reason is that of a former ship steward who is one of the last fraying threads New Labour has with its roots. OK, those roots were riddled with racism and sexism but they offered a sense of stability for low-income families. A sense that someone was looking out for their children, so that they could get on with the job of putting a roof over their heads and food in their mouths. And the areas these families are most reliant on are free healthcare and a fair-as-possible education system.

But Ruth Kelly seems intent on dismantling that security. Now parents are told that worrying about their jobs and incomes is not enough. Each parent now has to go out and fight for an education for their children, that earlier generations took for granted. Has no one in the inner sanctum - apart from Prescott - bothered to look beyond their own lives and notice that it is the children of those that shout the loudest - with books and culture at their fingertips - who least need the best education? Can't they see that it is the "feral" children that most need a universal, one-tier system, that treats them equally, despite the silence of their parents?

We are talking about those parents who don't know the system, who may have just dragged their children halfway round the world for a better life and trust that they will receive an education at least on a par with their own.

Those whose parents cannot see past the end of a bottle or a needle, but nevertheless love their children as much as we do. Those whose parents work two or three jobs just to put a school uniform on their backs.

Now they must find the time to battle for a better school, even if it means a two-hour commute, because the Government has given up the responsibility to ensure effective local schools to noisy parents and big business.

Obviously, many of these less-advantaged children were being failed by pre-Blair education but the latest analysis of exam results shows that after more than eight years of searching for an alternative to the "bog-standard" comprehensive, fewer 16-year-olds are gaining an English or maths GCSE. And I would take a wild guess that those leaving school without these basic requirements are not the children of the shouting parents.

It is this pandering to the middle-classes that infuriates the true Labour supporters, the ones who believed that, in power, the party would ensure that every child had the right to a decent education. The Labour party has always offered a home for the guacamole-eating classes with a conscience but its leaders could look beyond the mirror, and recognise that not all lives were like theirs. This lot do not appear to have that imagination.

How do they intend to serve a cohesive country, when they appear to be setting up a system that will let schools who already suck out the life-blood of their neighbours, poach the most socially-pleasing pupils from further afield by creating more places? Do they really believe that this will take more offspring of the under-classes, rather than the kind of pupils they already have?

We all know what happens to those left in the wake of money-guzzling, pupil-stealing specialists and academies, they struggle on with less money and more challenging teenagers and then they fail. The pupils who remain are the necessary casualties of a war - they are not "our" children after all, but those of parents who didn't care enough to shout.

Patricia Denison 30

Alison Shepherd is chair of governors at a north-east London primary

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