Class train at hypocrite halt

29th October 2004 at 01:00
Anyone who thinks we now live in a classless society should take a close look at recent events in education. John Major talked about setting one up, but his government did nothing in education to encourage such a state.

The Conservatives, and now Labour, have sponsored a Victorian railway carriage system of first, second and third-class schools and universities, which merely excavates the chasms between social groups. When unregulated top-up fees for universities arrive, as they undoubtedly will one day, Tony Blair's dream of neatly defined upper and lower-class institutions will be complete.

Consider some recent news items in education. The Prime Minister wants public schools to sponsor the new city academies, to make them more classy than bogstandard schools. Why is this barmy idea even given house room?

Will Toff City academy become the posh school's reserve team, where promising serfs can be injected with upper-class values?

State schools are supposedly set free and then told they will be "expected" to run a house system. These versions of the classless society simply encourage Archibald Cholmondley-Smythe and Annabelle Farnes Barnes to colonise the entire peasantry.

Goodbye school dinners, hello cucumber sandwiches and tea in nice china cups.

Look what happened when some figures in elite universities threatened to go private if the Government insisted they take more students from state schools.

Immediately the policy was put under review. A stony silence usually greets complaints from bogstandard universities about government policies.

Then there was the case of the head of Westminster school who wanted to teach in a state school. I admire him for this. It was a splendid piece of public spiritedness, in the very best tradition of independent schools, and needless obstacles should not have been put in his way.

But the almighty fuss that ensued was because he came from a distinguished private school. Suddenly there was an attack on the "discredited" postgraduate certificate in education as it was called. Were people really wanting its abolition and thus thousands of unqualified teachers educating their children?

Worse still was the story about a private school failing its Ofsted inspection. Goodness me, it was said, the school had wealthy parents and successfully got children into prep schools. Someone called "Professor Woodhead" even demanded that Ofsted be stripped of its powers to inspect private schools. Could this have been the same Woodhead who set up the very inspection system he was now condemning? The word "Professor" alongside "Woodhead" must be the supreme example of bathos. The two terms go together like caviar and chips.

Fortunately it is only a professorship in the private University of Buckingham, so that is a relief.

On the other hand, the juxtaposition of"wood" and "head" is a marriage made in heaven. If ever a foot is needed to be placed in a mouth, you can always rely on Wooders to come up trumps.

Social class divisions are reinforced on a daily basis in the wider political world. Oliver Letwin, unashamed toff and Conservative shadow chancellor, asserted last October that he would give his right arm to secure private education for his children, and sooner beg on the streets than send them to his local London state school.

Of course he apologised later, they always do. Boris Johnson insulted the city of Liverpool, accusing it of wallowing in grief for the horrific murder of Kenneth Bigley. He was subsequently sent there to express regret, but it seemed like parents making their child say sorry to someone through clenched teeth.

It was a nasty attack, though Johnson quickly donned his usual camouflage of language and style. The message was "Cripes, I'm only a loveably eccentric Old Etonian - still, had a bit of a kicking for it", so everything was supposed to be fine. Just a good natured toff having a bit of fun at the expense of the plebs up north.

The problem is that the Prime Minister sees himself as a benign aristocrat, trying to do his best for the peasants. Consequently he is bewildered at the negative reaction to his efforts to convert them into civilised human beings.

Why can't they like my idea of house systems and an academy run by a public school?

Society may be a nightmare of class distinction, but that is precisely why education should counteract it. Instead it is being reinforced.

There are to be three classes in our 21st-century social railway: really posh schools attended by people like Boris Johnson, Oliver Letwin and Tony Blair; expensive academies for the better class peasants; bog-standard dumps for the crisp-eating bolshies.

Come election time, however, some politicians will be seen taking a whippet for a walk, sipping Newcastle Brown, or pretending to enjoy a chip buttie.

The hypocritical prats.

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