Education: Confessions of a disillusioned parent

For many Hackney parents, the revelations about the borough's education service have come as a relief - but not a shock - as Gabriel Thompson explains.

I can own up now. My wife and I have spent thousands of pounds privately educating my two step-daughters in posh schools where they rub shoulders with the privileged elite. And a government report has shown we did the right thing.

Our decision, six years ago, to get Katrina and Felicity out of the state system in Hackney was not based on snobbery (if you want to show off, buy a Jaguar - it's cheaper than school fees). We were not trying to turn the girls into geniuses. We were not bothered about uniforms, formal lessons or deportment. We just wanted to be sure that they got a decent education - in safety.

At first, we thought we could get that in Hackney. My wife fought to get the girls into what was regarded as the best state primary in the area. For a couple of years, things seemed to be going well, then the doubts began. When she was eight, Katrina was asked by her mother if she "did tables" at school. The scornful reply was: "Mummy, I do maths, not woodwork." In fact, neither child seemed to be learning anything except colouring and swearing.

As for their safety at secondary school ... I would rather take my chances at closing time in the worst pub in Glasgow than walk past some of our local schools when the pupils come out.

But maybe we were being hasty. We approached a prep school in Highgate, north London, and had the girls spend a day there. The prep school's verdict was that both girls were bright, but were, for example, two years behind their contemporaries in mathematics. The girls moved schools the next week.

At first, our decision was not popular with friends and neighbours in Hackney. They could not understand why we would pay for the right to spend 20 hours a week driving to school, when the local one was free and just a short walk away. I felt like I had admitted to drug addiction, rather than a desire for good education.

But gradually attitudes changed as people realised just how bad Hackney schools had become. Parents would approach you at parties or in the supermarket and reveal their dirty secrets: they had got their children a place in a state school in another borough; they had decided they could afford school fees; could I recommend a school?

If you could manage it, you paid. If you could not, you took on the system and tried for a place at a state school outside the borough. If all else failed, you moved. Every childin our street was eventually taken out of their Hackney school. They were among the lucky ones. Thousands of others stayed and suffered.

I am glad the report shows that we had good reason to get our children out of Hackney's schools. I am even more pleased thatit is likely to be the first step on the road back to providing the level of education that all children deserve.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions