Editor-At-Large: Let's be blunt, it's class war in my old playground

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The Independent Online

Diane Abbott's decision to send her son to a private school, despite her supposed commitment as a Labour MP to comprehensive education, smacks of the hypocrisy we have come to expect from so many people in public life. Her budding secondary career as a presenter on the BBC's This Week is no doubt providing the funds for this expensive gesture, as I doubt she would be able to afford the City of London School's fees of £10,000 a year on her basic MP's salary. I am pleased that Diane is prepared to stand up and be attacked for putting her son's interests first, but I wish she had been with me last week when I visited my old primary school, Peterborough, in Fulham, west London, so that she could see how selfish people like her are having a hugely detrimental effect on the educational opportunities of every inner-city child.

When my parents enrolled me at Peterborough in 1952, there were two classes of 40 pupils, and it is clear from the school's records (which listed parents' occupations - something we dare not do today in politically correct Britain) that the huge majority of the intake was thoroughly working class. I counted only four white-collar occupations in 80 names: an accountant, a couple of civil servants and a lawyer. But Fulham in the 1950s was a very different place to the genteel Chelsea overspill area it is today. Then every house on the Peterborough estate, which surrounds the school, was divided into two or three dwellings. Today the working class has gone, and these homes sell for more than £750,000 each.

The school had an extremely good reputation, and my reports show how carefully teachers nurtured their charges. I received extra lessons in handwriting after school time, studied geography, needlework and science, as well as history, English and maths. But as Fulham became gentrified, so the school became neglected, and the roll fell when incomers started choosing private education. Peterborough primary school faced closure. The present headmaster, Bob Shearman, arrived in 1999 and since then standards have improved, with the school scoring well above average in Sats in the past two years, with an excellent 89 per cent in science, 79 per cent in English and 81 per cent in maths.

When I walked around it, I was extremely impressed with the atmosphere - calm, focused and friendly. The school is a Victorian building facing a park, spacious and full of light. But only 200 children attend a school built for as many as 400. I looked out over the middle-class homes spread around it, and saw an endless stream of large cars ferrying children to private schools elsewhere. Fewer than a dozen children in this school come from middle-class homes.

In spite of Peterborough being recognised as one of the most improved schools in Hammersmith and Fulham borough, local people have made the same snobbish decision as Diane Abbott has: they pay for their children to receive a virtually identical education with other middle-class kids elsewhere. I'm sorry to put it that bluntly, but class war is what this is all about. More than 20 per cent of all school students in the borough are attending privately run establishments, more than double the average rate for London.

To make matters worse for children at primaries like Peterborough, the best Hammersmith and Fulham secondary schools such as the London Oratory and my old grammar school, Lady Margaret, have plenty of parents living outside the borough (like the Blairs) who decided to try to enrol their children, making it difficult for locals to move on to them.

Mr Shearman is doing a fine job. He is having trouble making ends meet because of the - albeit admitted - underfunding of education by the Government in this financial year. If he had more pupils, he would attract more funds. He can't afford minibuses to send his children to the nearest swimming baths, something he would dearly like to do. He is thrilled that last year he managed to get two out of 27 pupils into Lady Margaret's comprehensive, which is literally at the end of his road. I would just say this to Ms Abbott: as the successful product of a state education in an inner-city area, her action will mean that even fewer middle-class parents in London will use the perfectly good schools at their disposal and, as a result, eventually more schools will close. Ms Abbott is a thorough disgrace, and the sooner she follows Michael Portillo and trades a political career for one in the media, the better.

Generation games  

Is the last sexual taboo about to be shattered? When wrinkly old men such as Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood get their kit off, film producers think that we still find them attractive. They even cast women young enough to be their granddaughters as their lovers. But in the testosterone-driven world of Hollywood no one has been willing to tackle the idea of a female sexual predator over 60. The Mother - on general release this week - is a film chronicling the sexual reawakening of a 65-year-old grandmother. After her husband dies, she refuses to return home, and moves into her daughter's flat. Before long she's started to have casual sex with the young man who is building her son's new conservatory. The only trouble is, he's also bonking her daughter. Tastefully directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill) and starring Anne Reid (Coronation Street and dinnerladies), I found The Mother thoroughly engrossing. But even I admit that the sight of a white flabby bottom heaving about as the gorgeous Daniel Craig entered her from behind is almost too much to bear. In places, this film seems almost cloyingly tasteful, but it certainly doesn't shirk the reality of sex between two people of very different ages. And why should women over 60 be confined to the scrapheap? A Round-Heeled Woman is published this week (Chatto & Windus), the true story of how 67-year-old Jane Juska placed a small ad in The New York Review of Books and went on to have sex with some of the men she met. Expect to see a reality TV series on the subject any day now.

¿ And so the fashion world weeps as Tom Ford leaves Gucci. A man who controls his own image so zealously - he is only ever photographed with one sultry expression - Mr Ford has tried to do too much, in my opinion. How can one man design clothes for Gucci, Saint Laurent, and all their associated lines? Tom Ford doesn't really have a style; he just brilliantly recycles looks from yesteryear. The truth is that Gucci and Saint Laurent make their fortunes from perfume and accessories rather than skimpy frocks.

He also lived and worked in a somewhat rarefied atmosphere, as he would freely admit. Last year I found myself talking to the great man when a friend brought him to my local bar in London EC1 for a drink. "So where is Clerkenwell, exactly, and what happens here?" he asked, as if he'd been deposited in a shanty town outside Rio, and not a fashionable inner-London borough just a mile from his beloved Ivy restaurant. Should he continue in the fashion business, I don't see Mr Ford opening a shop in Hoxton. Far too raunchy and raucous for his refined tastes.

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