Education: Personally Speaking Anne McHardy

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The Independent Online
MY DAUGHTER is 12 and her schooling gives me nightmares. My Louise has the unhappy distinction of intelligence and of being at the sort of inner-city comprehensive targeted by the measures unveiled on Monday by our bright-eyed Prime Minister.

So, shouldn't I be happy that she will have access to master- classes along with her clever brothers? Well, only up to a point because the problem is that a middle-class child today is an even odder oddity in an inner- city comprehensive than it was when our eldest son transferred to secondary school in 1991.

Louise is at our chosen secondary in Haringey - she has followed her three brothers there. Some state secondaries in the area have 70 per cent of pupils achieving five good GCSEs, while some have only 14 per cent. Our school hovers at around 40 per cent, and its ethnic mix matches London's average.

The school has served us well. Our oldest got nine GCSEs and three A- levels, and is university bound. Brother Two has seven GCSEs, and is doing A-levels. Brother Three does one early entry GCSE this year and is predicted good grades for next. Lou left primary above-average in her SATs results.

There have been hiccups. Son One felt like a beleaguered minority. Son Two was saved from severe under-achievement by good school pastoral support and brute intelligence.

Son Three shows fewer problems. He has friends who share his passionate interests. They are making a DIY Bond film. The Blair package might arguably offer him tuition elsewhere. Not that he fancies that. "That would get us kicked to shit," was his reaction. "Does that happen to slow learners?" I asked. "Nobody is jealous of them," he said.

Lou is an extra problem, partly because fewer parents risk girls in co- eds. An imbalance of boys reduces her pool of friends.

There is a second problem, though, which adds the bitter taste to Monday's package. Since Son One transferred in 1991, London has suffered. Our school was predominantly European with a sizeable West Indian contingent. It is disproportionately blacker now, and is taking increasing numbers of refugees.

Neighbouring schools have different refugees and rivalries develop. A week ago, Son Three was held in school while police cleared a rampaging crowd equipped with iron rods and chains bent on exacting revenge on a different minority group. The refugees come from areas where fighting is normal.

Worse, all the poor are poorer, which means my kids often get mugged, usually near the underground. They are rarely seriously threatened, although knives are shown, and amounts taken are small. Drugs, of course, are on offer.

The mugging and drugs would be no different at fee-paying schools. Friends' kids get duffed up, too. Moving to the country might help - but we enjoy the city.

With university looming for our eldest, school fees would cripple us. Lou could move, but the choices are only the same as when she transferred. She has friends and is academically OK, so why disrupt her?

Will Mr Blair's measures help? The brightest need stretching but the Blair measures will only further deplete the classroom pool and show aspiring parents which schools of excellence they might choose full-time, leaving a shrinking middle-class working harder to leaven the remainder.

We opted for an inner-city comprehensive because we believed, and still do, that our four children could achieve academically in London and get a richer general education.

What we want is for the deprived to be given hope so that they will see some point in learning. Without that, it will get harder to support our daughter. Luckily, she is our last.

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