in my view

Some kids more equal than others

by Alasdair Smith

THE MEDIA has jumped on the opportunity to attack left wing MP Jeremy Corbyn. Not for his principled position against the NATO bombing of Serbia, but for the crime of standing up for comprehensive education. It used to be the case that only the lunatic fringes of the Tories opposed comprehensive education. There was a consensus that the old grammar school/secondary modern system failed nine out of ten pupils. Labour was committed to ending selective education. To be honest, there was never really any doubt that New Labour would ditch these principles. It was clearly signalled when Blair and then Harriet Harman chose to turn their backs on the comprehensive system.

Anyone who even privately tries to stick to a principle is pilloried as a loony lefty from the Dark Ages. To his credit, Corbyn has stood up against this. Corbyn's enemies are a narrow clique of New Labour thugs who have abandoned every principle except snobbery, toadyism and nepotism. They lecture Corbyn about outdated principles, and yet New Labour promotes a 19th century vision of education. Using Woodhead as their moral touchstone, they have embarked on an attempt to dismantle the comprehensive system in favour of payment by results, privatisation, streaming, SATs and the undermining of collective principles in schools.

When Blair and the media intone that every parent wants the best for their kids, they imply that working class parents don't really care about their kids' education. They aim to protect class privilege and exclusive schools for the middle classes. Education is presented as the good school versus the bad school. They talk it up like it is some agonising dilemma for parents. They fret at the very thought of having to mix with the kids who go to an inner city, multiracial, working class school. They try to win our sympathy and then, what a surprise, they choose the good school. And the rest of us? Well, we have no choice at all.

Those like Holloway School, which are demonised as failing schools, are in many ways successful. Within months of failing Ofsted inspections, one Holloway boy left with seven A* and two A grades in his GCSEs-the best results in the whole of London! And we do more. We help integrate refugee kids from all over the world-from Somalia, Bosnia, Serbia, Congo and now Kosovo. We provide an education for kids with a huge range of special needs. Blair and Woodhead mock all this. Even sympathetic commentators argue that these schools would get better if the middle classes went to them. But would they? Without the resources, buildings and teachers it doesn't work.

Another Islington school, George Orwell, has got rid of almost all its teachers, undermined parental support for the school and will now re-open under a new name. To improve education they destroy it! New Labour politicians remind me of the pigs in George Orwell's book Animal Farm. They were brought to power on the backs of the working class but now have their faces in the trough, intoxicated by power. Arrogant and self serving, these pigs have made hypocrisy a virtue. They want the best, but only for themselves.

As Islington New Labour shuts the doors of George Orwell School this July, it is tempting to imagine how Orwell himself would have measured New Labour: all children are equal, but some are more equal than others.