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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Laser and Router Operative

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Laser and Router Operative is...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician - 1st Line

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They have been providing local ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive / Trainee Managers

£6000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for smart, orga...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Sales / Customer Service Assistant

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The role is likely to be 4on 4 off, days and ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: immigration past and present, in Europe and in America

John Rentoul
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones