Education Secretary helps boy go to private school

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The Education Secretary, Alan Johnson, was at the centre of controversy yesterday after disclosing that he had helped one of his constituents get her son into a private school.

Teachers' leaders said his action showed a lack of faith in the quality of state education from a man who is in charge of running England's 24,000 state schools.

Mr Johnson said he had taken the step because there was no local secondary school with teaching to match the boy's aptitude. His mother, a single parent, had been granted a place for him at a local private school but it had used the funds available for bursaries for pupils from poorer homes.

The MP for Hull West and Hessle told the London Evening Standard: "I had a single mother come to me in Hull and ask that I write a supporting letter because the private school she wanted her son to go to and which had accepted him had run out of bursaries.

"She couldn't possibly afford it. It would have been the end of a chance for him. She just doesn't have a suitable school close at hand and he is a very bright boy who wants to do science."

Mr Johnson's local education authority, Hull, last year had one of the worst records in the country, being last but one of the 150 authorities in England for providing "value added" for pupils -improving on the exam results expected of them when they start.

"I am not fighting a class war here," said Mr Johnson. "I don't think it is betraying the human race to send your child to a private school. But I do believe we have to want the state sector to be as good or even better."

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "I would happily take [Mr Johnson] round the thousands of state secondary schools and let him meet their very high quality maths and science teachers. When he has been longer in the job his views will have changed."