Comprehensive education failed my sons, says Bernie Grant

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

"The comprehensive schools in inner-city areas of London are very bad indeed, and are failing our children." Thus said Bernie Grant, the left- wing Labour MP for Tottenham, north London, speaking from bitter experience.

It must have been beyond Tony Blair's wildest expectations that the one- time black radical would give such overwhelming backing to the choice made by Harriet Harman.

The 51-year-old MP could not have been more uncompromising. He was appalled at the standard of comprehensive education in his area, he told MPs at yesterday's Parliamentary Labour Party meeting.

In an interview with the Independent afterwards, he frankly admitted that with hindsight he regretted not considering the private sector for his children, but his former position as leader of Haringey council in north London had made that unthinkable.

For the father of three sons, one now 20 and twins of 18, the sense of disappointment is palpable from a man once regarded as a high priest of political correctness.

He declined to name the Haringey school that is still attended by one of the twins, who is studying for A-levels with the help of pounds 20-an-hour private tuition to "get him up to scratch".

The other twin is training as a chef. The 20-year-old was on a design course but is currently unemployed.

He said his sons were "very, very seriously hampered" by the quality of their schooling and blamed not only a question of resources through cuts in Haringey's standard spending assessment, but also attitudes and standards.

"The staff believe the kids won't make it. They don't encourage the kids to fix their aspirations very high."

He said of a young constituent at a Haringey comprehensive who secured a place at Oxford: "She was absolutely castigated by her teachers. She was told it was an elitist place for public school kids. At Oxford she had a complex and didn't perform as well as she should have done."

He had concerns about his sons throughout their early schooling but as council leader felt he could do little about it.

Now black constituents were moving out of Tottenham or sending their children to the Caribbean to be educated: "When they get to the Caribbean they are put in classes two years younger than them."

With hindsight, would he have opted for private education, politics and money permitting? "Absolutely." He adds: "I hope some good comes out of all of this."