Labour MP in private school row

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Political Correspondent

Tony Blair's difficulties over education deepened yesterday when it emerged that another Labour MP sends his two children to private schools.

Roger Godsiff, the MP for Birmingham Small Heath since 1992, confirmed that he sent his son, 13, and his daughter, 12, to private schools in south-east London, near his home in Labour-controlled Lewisham.

Mr Godsiff is believed to be one of only two Labour MPs with children at present in private schools. His son attends Colfes boys' school and his daughter is at the girls' Blackheath High. The fees for both schools are around pounds 4,500 a year. Paul Boateng, Labour spokesman on legal affairs, sends a son, 10, to Devonshire House preparatory school in north London.

Although Mr Godsiff is not a frontbench spokesman, his use of the private sector takes Tory charges of Labour double standards a step further than the choice of a selective school by Harriet Harman, Labour'shealth spokeswoman.

John Major mocked Mr Blair in the Commons, claiming Mr Godsiff was "in the vanguard of Labour's education policy". Two Tory backbenchers also targeted the Labour leader's own private education on the day the Sun published an attack on Mr Blair for seeking to deny others the privileges he himself enjoyed by Richard Gibbon, one of his contemporaries at Fettes College, the Edinburgh boarding school.

Mr Godsiff said yesterday: "My children do not have assisted places. I pay full fees out of my own pocket. Yes, I am fortunate to be able to afford that, but I also pay high taxes under this Tory government supposedly to ensure there is decent education in the state sector."

Both his children had been at a local state primary school, Rushey Green, in Lewisham. "My son was doing all right for a time, but then things went downhill. The same was true of my daughter. They weren't progressing as fast as they should have been . . . I tried to find an alternative state school for both, but it proved very difficult to find a gap in a suitable one."

He said he was keen to move his children back into the state sector under a future Labour government if schools were given more resources and standards raised. He pointed to this week's report by Chris Woodhead, the Chief Inspector of Schools, which said that teaching in half of primary schools was unsatisfactory.

Mr Godsiff, 49, is engaged in a struggle to succeed Roy Hattersley as MP for the new Birmingham Sparkbrook constituency after boundary changes. Mr Hattersley, a passionate advocate of comprehensive education who wants to abolish public schools, has said he should be succeeded by someone of Asian origin.

Mr Godsiff told the Independent yesterday: "I support overall Labour's education policy, and think that Tony Blair is very effectively addressing the wishes and aspirations of parents in this country." And he denied Tory charges of hypocrisy: "I haven't told anybody they must not exercise their right to do the best for their children."

Mr Blair's office would not comment on Mr Godsiff yesterday.