It would take something extraordinary for Simon Cowell to send his child to a state school - but extraordinary is exactly what we need

Education shouldn’t depend on the size of parental pockets


Do any rich people in Britain send their children to state schools? I’m not sure how we define rich these days, but however we do I suspect the answer is: not many – if any.

Michael Gove has challenged impending father Simon Cowell to eschew private education. “If Simon wants me to show him round a couple or even hundreds of fantastic state primary schools, it would be a pleasure,” he declared in a bit of grandstanding on LBC.

As Gove is doubtless well aware, the call from Cowell may be a long time coming. The music mogul’s partner, Lauren Silverman, is American and may want to raise the child over there. But even if they were to base themselves in Britain I’d have thought it highly unlikely that a Cowell sprog would find itself mucking in with the plebs.

I don’t think this is a sign of the times. Rich kids have always gone to private schools. Gove is right when he says there are lots of great state schools in Britain, at both primary and secondary level. And there are some poor ones – but then anecdotal evidence suggests there are mediocre private schools as well. And that, too, has always been the case.

But all of this is beside the point: in any society that wants to think of itself as decent and civilised, that values social mobility and equality of opportunity, education shouldn’t depend on the size of parental pockets – especially if, like Rachel Ragg, writing in today’s Daily Mail, you spend a fortune educating your daughter privately only in order to increase her chances of snagging a rich bloke and becoming a well-heeled stay-at-home mum.

Cowell, who went to a private school himself, crossed Gove last year when he said in a radio interview in the US that the secret to success in life is “to be useless in school and then get lucky.” Gove was outraged – though I suspect that Cowell, while making the point that it is possible to get on in life without passing exams, was being light-hearted.

Failure to see the joke is standard for politicians, but I have some sympathy for Gove. He keeps banging the “higher-standards” drum, and last week he was brave enough to address the state/private divide that blights our education system.

But talking about a promised land in which there’s absolutely no difference between any given state school and any given private school is one thing. Reaching that promised land is another matter entirely. If the best option, the decent, utilitarian option – to abolish private education – isn’t going to happen (which it isn’t), then Gove and the government need to spend huge amounts of money to make all our state schools – and it must be all – the match of the privates.

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