Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, says Trafford Council's decision to have school trips just for free school meals recipients is part of a wider malaise.
Trafford Council made national news last week – for all the wrong reasons. The Council is using money allocated by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) to fund school trips to an indoor ski centre, Knowsley Safari Park and Manchester United for football training.
The problem is that these trips are only available to children on free school meals. Other children who may wish to go are not allowed to, whether their parents pay or not.
As ever when the sparks fly, the DCSF absolves itself from responsibility. A spokesman said there was no stipulation that the money was ring-fenced for those on free school meals. 'It is down to schools to use their professional judgments in deciding who is or is not eligible for the subsidy,' he said.
This Trafford policy may be unusual but it raises fundamental questions:
Why should families and their children who work hard to be self-sufficient be penalised? (Surely, properly run schools have always ensured that children don't miss school trips simply because their parents can't afford to pay.)
Isn't this obvious cruelty to children, even if we ignore the apparent failure of Trafford's councillors properly to control their mad officials?
Should schools or a local authority identify children on free school meals like this?
And doesn't this call into question the very nature of the social justice agenda?
Social justice obviously means helping those who need it. But to do so, is it sensible to penalise others who may or may not be wealthy, but try to be self-sufficient?
Obvious examples include:
Fiddling school catchment areas to deny places to children from good homes? Reducing exam standards so that the brightest can't properly demonstrate their knowledge and preparation? Fiddling university admissions to deny places to youngsters from good schools or 'middle class' homes? Promoting over-ambitious school, college and university building programmes to exhaust reserves that should be retained for leaner times?
Too many of these stupidities are now accepted without question by local and national politicians from all sides of the political spectrum. But isn't that why socialism fails? The aims may be desirable but the practical administration of the policies almost always falls down.
Risk assessment? Wouldn't government be more effective if consequences, both intended and unintended, were always listed first?