John Major slams private school privilege: What did he do to change the system while he was PM?

All Major did was allow a few high-performing schools serving the middle classes to opt out into grant-maintained status

Share
Related Topics

Here we go again. Phase two of the love-in between the British media and Sir John Major, the worst prime minister of my adult lifetime. He says the “collapse in social mobility” is Labour’s fault and that the dominance of a private school educated elite in Britain is “truly shocking”.

So shocking that Major’s plan to do something about it when he was in power for six and a half years was to keep the Assisted Places Scheme, a state subsidy for private schools, and to propose “a grammar school in every town” - a proposal fortunately defeated at the polls in 1997, which would have strengthened the grip of what he called on Friday night the “affluent middle class” on the English schools system. 

The idea that grammar schools are an engine of social mobility is a day-dream of reactionary Conservatives, which was rightly and finally rejected by David Willetts when he was Tory education spokesman under David Cameron in 2007. That ending of the Tory party’s support for the principle of writing off three-quarters of children at the age of 11 was one of the huge gains for social justice and indeed social mobility made by New Labour.

This is, furthermore, the John Major who sent his own children to private schools. Nothing wrong with that. We are all for aspiration, for doing the best for one’s children while working to change the system to make it better and fairer for people who cannot afford such advantages. That is why we admire the refusal of Tristram Hunt, Labour’s new education spokesman, to rule out the possibility of sending his own children to private schools, even though he says that is most unlikely.

But what did Major do to work to change the system while he was Prime Minister? He sneered at Tony Blair as “another public school-educated Socialist” in his 1995 Tory conference speech. That would be the Tony Blair who sent all his children to state schools, the first prime minister to do so. The Tony Blair who raised standards in state schools especially in London, under Major an under-invested disaster area for the education of working-class children. The Tony Blair who introduced academy schools to replace schools that had failed their disadvantaged pupils.

All Major did was allow a few high-performing schools serving the middle classes to opt out into grant-maintained status.

As for Major’s claim that Labour “left a Victorian divide between stagnation and aspiration” I wonder if he lives in the same country as the rest of us. How Conservatives love the myth that “social mobility fell under Labour”. There is just no evidence for this - just some ancient data from the Thatcher period. It was the great increase in inequality under Margaret Thatcher that left a divide in British society, one for which Major had nothing but warm words about a classless society. It was up to the Labour government to start the work of healing those divisions: the national minimum wage, better pre-school provision, more lone parents in work, better schools for pupils from poorer households, a huge expansion of university student numbers and big investment in public services and public spaces, more to the benefit of the less well-off than the “upper echelons” about whose dominance John Major affects to be so upset.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
 

The strangely parallel lives of Oliver Letwin and Ed Miliband

Matthew Norman
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral