Letwin: I'd rather beg than send child to inner-city school

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Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, was criticised yesterday for saying that he would "go out on the streets and beg" rather than send his children to an inner-city comprehensive in London.

The Eton-educated MP told a conference fringe meeting that he would consider sending his children to state schools in his Dorset constituency but he would "give his right arm" to go private in the London borough of Lambeth, where he lives during the week.

Gary Phillips, headteacher of the London comprehensive in question, the Lilian Baylis School in Kennington, said pupils and parents would be upset by Mr Letwin's remarks.

Mr Letwin reportedly said that he was trying to get his 10-year-old daughter Laura into a "particular public school in London" as he wanted to see his family in the week. "Miraculously the middle-class parents with the money end up getting their children into good schools. In Lambeth, where I live, I would give my right arm to send them to a fee-paying school. If necessary I would go out on the streets and beg rather than send them to the school next to where I live. What about other parents in Lambeth who are forced to use state schools because they don't have the money? We need to give them the choice as well."

The Tories are promising a voucher scheme for education, in which the Government could put the amount of money it spends on each state school pupil towards private fees.

Last year, only 6 per cent of GCSE pupils at Lilian Baylis got five or more passes at grade C and above; just 26 per cent of its 14-year-olds reached the Government's required standard in English and 32 per cent reached the standard in maths.

Ofsted, the education watchdog, said in 2001 that the school had a troubled history but there were "clear signs" that it was improving'.

Mr Phillips said: "It is very upsetting for both children and parents to be told that their school is no good when they know full well that it is.''

Lilian Baylis was one of the top 100 schools in the country when factors such as whether children spoke English when they arrived at the school were taken into account, he said.

Stephen Twigg, an Education minister, said: "Oliver Letwin has insulted the parents, teachers and pupils of every state school in the country. We are working with schools to improve standards and give every child, regardless of their ability to pay, the kind of choice Oliver Letwin wants parents to pay for."

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