Imagine the following scenario: You’re in a waiting room somewhere and, for want of a sounder alternative, you’re perusing the comment pages of the Guardian. You happen upon the leader column, only to read the following: "Sorry, readers – we were wrong. Everything we’ve told you over the years is basically rubbish, so please disregard and vote Tory."
Obviously, that’s not going happen, but here’s what may well be the next best thing – a remarkable confession from the education journalist and Guardian contributor, Janet Murray:
- "Five years ago, if someone had told me I'd have a child at private school, I'd have laughed. I'd have said I resented parents buying privilege through private education.
- "That was before I became a parent. When my daughter, Katy, was about to turn three, I had a dilemma. Although we had a lovely childminder, I felt Katy needed to start mixing with other children in preparation for school. She was offered a place at the nursery attached to the primary school I had my eye on, but the two-hour daily sessions were not practical for me as a working mother. I did not want Katy to be shunted from nursery to carer. She'd had a difficult start in life, born almost three months early, weighing just over two and half pounds. She was a quiet child who often found new situations stressful, so I didn't feel that was right for her."
I’m sure we all wish young Katy the very best, but did it not occur to her mother that every child is different in his or her own way and that, maybe, a monolithic state-dominated education system might not be best placed to meet their varying needs?
Janet Murray goes on to describe how after opting for the private nursery, she then enrolled her daughter into the private primary school to which the nursery is attached. Amusingly, she describes herself as "an ‘accidental’ private school parent."
But there’s no accident about it: she just did what any decent parent would – the best that they can for their children. The only series of unfortunate events involved is that which led an intelligent person like Ms Murray to subscribe to the liberal-lefty viewpoint on education. Her own educational history should have led her to the right conclusions at a much earlier stage:
- "Having escaped a coasting comprehensive for grammar school in my teens – an experience that opened my eyes to a different kind of future – I know first-hand how powerful education can be to individuals as a vehicle for social mobility."
Still, she got there in the end and that’s the main thing.
It’s also greatly to her credit that, unlike some other ‘accidental’ private school parents, she sees the need to make choice available to those who don’t have the money to pay for it:
- "The coalition government’s free schools programme (which allows parents, teachers and others to set up schools), though not perfect by any means, is an attempt to take the best bits from the independent sector and reproduce them in state schools."
Ms Murray doesn’t go so far as to urge the country to vote Conservative at the next election. But what do you think will happen to our free schools if it doesn’t?