Labour was bracing itself for fresh embarrassment over its education policy after the disclosure last night that Harriet Harman, shadow Health Secretary, is to send her son Joe to a grant-maintained grammar school in Kent.
Ms Harman's son - whose elder brother Harry,13, goes to the Oratory, the grant-maintained Roman Catholic comprehensive attended by Tony Blair's son Euan - has secured a place in the highly competitive examination for the selective St Olave's School, a boys' grammar in Bromley. Ms Harman is married to Jack Dromey, a Transport and General Workers' Union official. Labour Party policy is opposed to the principle of selection in schools.
Ms Harman's son was one of the top 90 in the examination, out of 700 applicants. The 11-year-old is at present at a local state primary school, Dulwich Hamlets, in south London, acknowledged as a feeder school for St Olave's, a state school which has opted out of local authority control by becoming grant-maintained. The school is selective as well as grant- maintained, which makes the decision particularly sensitive.
Ms Harman said last night: "This is a state school that other children in my son's class will be going to. That he has got in has got absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am an MP. Any child in Southwark can apply, many go and admission is open to every child in Southwark irrespective of money or who their parents are."
Ms Harman said that there had never been the same pattern in London of sending children to very local schools that there had been in other parts of the country. Many of her own constituents in the London borough of Southwark went to schools in Lewisham and many in Lambeth went to schools in Southwark.
She added: "There has always been a lot of travelling in London. It has also been common for a long time for parents in inner London to send their children to schools in outer London boroughs."
Ms Harman said the fact that she had not decided to send her second son to the same school as his brother in no way reflected on the Oratory, which was a "brilliant" school. "Sometimes a school is perfect for one child and another school is perfect for another. There is nothing unusual in a parent sending one child to one school and another to a different school."
David Blunkett, shadow Education Secretary, told the party conference in October that a Labour government would create no more selective schools. "Read my lips. No selection, either by examination or by interview under a Labour government," he said. But the party's education policy document makes it clear that the party will leave it open to local councils to preserve existing grammar schools.
St Olave's has a 175-pupil sixth form, with 96 per cent going on to higher education. It is a 400-year-old school which was founded by Southwark pensioners, originally in the London borough.Reuse content