Deeply saddened by 'bog-standard' insult

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
ONE evening last week I was at a meeting to talk with primary parents about transfer in September. The first question was an enquiry as to whether my school, a large, successful 11-18 comprehensive, was "bog standard".

The questioner might have had his tongue in his cheek, but I had to give an answer from the heart. I said "Yes, and we're proud of it, because bog standard, as far as comprehensives go, means good for everyone, by any standard."

I feel very strongly about the slur on the sector that I have worked in for more than 30 years. What surprised me was the strength of similar feeling in my audience. To a person they agreed. And I began to realise that the cheap comment from the Prime Minister's press secretary, was not just felt as an insult by thousands of teachers, but by a large number of parents.

This is my second comprehensive headship. I have worked in rural, mining community, inner-city and oute urban comprehensives. None of them have been specialist schools. None of them were grant maintained. All of them did well by their pupils and their communities, most of them in challenging circumstances.

When the implications of the "bog standard" comment began to sink in, and I realised that it wasn't just an insult, but a policy position, I found myself asking, with great sadness: "Can I trust the Labour party with education?"

The problem is that the people who should be championing inclusion have forgotten the damage which a divisive system does. At least I hope they have forgotten. If the truth is that they don't care, then things are even worse.

There's nothing wrong with specialist schools. Quite the opposite. But it's very wrong to champion them by rubbishing the rest.

John Vickers


South Craven school

Holme Lane

Cross Hills

Keighley, West Yorkshire

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