By Harry Phibbs
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There is a good piece (£) in The Spectator this week by Sebastian Payne on the muddle Labour has got itself into over free schools and academies. Traditionally the Labour Party opposes independent schools. It used to favour banning them. It is still problematic for a Labour politician (as opposed to a Labour supporting journalist or academic) to pay fees for their children's schooling.
So if fee-paying schools – such as King’s School in Tynemouth, one of best schools in the north-east – decide to join the state system wouldn't the Labour Party, welcome it? Er, no. Socialists want the excellence, values, and tradition of the independent schools stamped out. The last thing they want is it spreading into the state sector.
Mr Payne says:
King’s plans to merge with the Priory primary school next door to create an academy, known as Kings Priory School, that would take children from primary to sixth-form in one of the poorest areas of the country. The plan is widely supported by parents of pupils at both schools and by the local community, and ought to fit anyone’s definition of social -justice.
Labour and local bureaucrats, however, have reacted with fury. They were already upset to see that most secondary schools, given the choice, opted to leave council control; now they have to look on as former private schools compete for state pupils. The breadth and speed of Michael Gove’s revolution has left Labour flummoxed and fractured. The row over Kings Priory School is a perfect case in point.
There is concern that the Labour Party, in terms of education policy, has regressed to being the political wing of the National Union of Teachers. This concern would certainly seem to be valid in North Tyneside.
The Labour-run North Tyneside council is a bastion of resistance to the Baker/Blair/Gove reforms, and seems to be primarily interested in protecting its own territory. Allowing the King’s School to open to state pupils would, they say, upset the ‘feeder’ system that shepherds pupils in primaries into designated secondaries. Giving parents a choice upsets this careful plan.
The opposition is being led by Ian Grayson, a National Union of Teachers official who doubles as the North Tyneside council member responsible for education. He believes that removing the Priory school from council control could ‘destabilise’ the entire education system in the borough.
Giving parents choice, he told me, could ‘see a significant drop in numbers elsewhere in the borough and we have to plan for that’. A third of pupils might choose schools other than the
ones the council has designated for them. To Mr Grayson, this is not something to celebrate, but a problem.
Can this really be true? Surely Mr Payne has got it wrong? A few seconds on Google shows that sadly it is and he hasn't. Cllr Grayson is on the National Union of Teachers executive committee. He is also the Cabinet Member responsible for schools.
What does the Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg do? Whose side is he on? Is he backing the pursuit of excellence or the enemies of promise? Parent power or producer capture? Mr Twigg is supporting Cllr Grayson. There are "surplus places" – and if you can't afford £10,000 a year for fees then stuff off.
How long before Lord Adonis speaks out against the way the Labour Party are betraying his reforms?