Fiona Phillips: Hero or Villain?


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The Independent Online

Britain has always been a nation obsessed by class, but last week we became obsessed by the classroom. First, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, made public his letter apologising to a former French teacher for his behaviour aged 15. Then the Government announced plans for tougher tests for teachers. And in between, there was the former GMTV presenter Fiona Phillips's address to her old school.

Invited back to help Millbrook Community School in Southampton celebrate its rebranding as a £16m academy, Phillips took the opportunity to give a heartfelt speech about her own experience at her not-so-alma mater.

She described her arrival there in the 1970s as "eye-opening" and told how she was shocked to find the place "rampant with hormones and no discipline, no aspiration or encouragement". She further told those assembled that her time at Millbrook had turned her into a "vile teenager" and resulted in this once-promising student leaving school with one O-level. Not exactly what those who invited her were expecting.

The comment-thread haters were quick to pounce, with "Let's not restrict her vileness to her teenage years" being one typically enlightened offering.

What seems to have been lost along the way is the very point that Phillips was trying to make. In contrasting the modern school that now stands on the site with the no-hope comp of yesteryear, Phillips was trying to show the students – many of whom are from the deprived surrounding area – that they should not take what they have been given for granted.

"I had no leg-ups, no handouts, and if I can do [what I have done], they should grab every opportunity no matter what their backgrounds. They deserve this, and they can achieve anything here," she said, before pleading for more money to regenerate the nearby estate.

It was a gold-star performance. And one the Labour Party, which courted Phillips back in 2007, would do well to note.