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Labour’s education plans are a lesson in division

This article is over 16 years, 8 months old
Tony Blair outlined the government’s education white paper on Monday this week, promising "choice" for all parents. Teacher, parent and union activist Nick Grant looks at the reality of school selection.
Issue 1974
Bourgeois aspiration: how many parents get the “choice” to go to places like Fettes public school, where Tony Blair studied?
Bourgeois aspiration: how many parents get the “choice” to go to places like Fettes public school, where Tony Blair studied?

Simon Jones lives in Blackburn. He and his wife have four children currently at infant and junior school. They are more than happy with these schools — but they are not so happy about the future.

The problem is that the secondary school traditionally linked to their junior schools practises gender splitting to compete with a nearby Muslim girls secondary.

“We have absolutely no problem with race or religion,” says Simon. “But my wife and I object to gender-split classes at the secondary school which most of these kids go on to.”

Blackburn currently has 12 secondary schools. Two are fee charging private schools, three are Christian and one is Muslim. Two more are some distance away in Darwen, and one of them is about to become a city academy.

Of four remaining choices one school is a de facto boys school, balancing the girls-only intake at the Muslim school. Another has ongoing problems after a “fresh start” initiative earlier in the year.

“This only leaves two accessible schools that are anything like comprehensive in terms of ability or race,” explains Simon.

“Both are oversubscribed. If you don’t put them down as your first option it’s unlikely they’ll accept your children as a second preference. So you have to gamble and pick one.”

Most parents don’t want a marketplace of competing mini-businesses to choose from. Schools are not chocolate bars or holidays. Parents want good, open access, local schools which respect all races, religions and abilities. But New Labour has no intention of delivering that.

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