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.
Friday 19 September 1997
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.
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