Frank Dobson: Why I will vote against Blair over schools

We could end up with the latter-day equivalent of the Taliban Technical College

Share

Before they vote for the Education Bill, I urge my colleagues to remember that the last time the Prime Minister ignored the objections, doubts and reservations of Labour MPs and marched into the division lobby with the enthusiastic support of the Tories was over the invasion of Iraq.

While the issues are different, once again the Prime Minister is telling us to set aside our experience, knowledge, principles and instincts. Instead, we are to accept his judgement that the creation of independent state schools is the only way to improve our schools and that to oppose them marks us down as not wanting schools to do better. It's the same old syllogism: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore this must be done." It wasn't true over Iraq and it's not true over schools.

We are told the Prime Minister's advisers looked at private schools and isolated independence as the factor that gave them their advantages. Sadly, they failed to spot that private schools spend three times as much per pupil, have smaller class sizes, better paid teachers and generally exclude the poor and disadvantaged. So it has been decreed that all schools in the public sector should become independent state schools, variously labelled trust, foundation or voluntary schools and academies. Businesses, private interests or religious organisations will run trust schools, determining their ethos and admissions, appointing staff and opting out of parts of the national curriculum. We could end up with the latter-day equivalent of the Enron Trust School, the Robert Maxwell Specialist Business School, the Taliban Technical College or the Inquisition Humanities Academy.

While not all sponsors may be as disreputable as this, the Education and Skills Select Committee found that "no causal link has been established between external partners and the success of a school". Good leadership, good funding and good teachers are what make a good school. Better leadership, better funding and better teaching are what have improved schools across the country, especially primary schools which, up till now, have not been distracted by reorganisation and restructuring.

The Education Bill promotes choice and diversity. There is very little evidence that a wide choice of schools is what parents want. The first choice for most parents is that the nearest local primary school and the nearest local secondary school will be good enough for their child and that they will get that first choice. Even most shopaholics don't relish shopping around for schools.

Then we come to the new shibboleth "diversity". Is our society really crying out for more diversity? Most thinking people are concerned more about the lack of social cohesion, breakdown of common standards of behaviour and the erosion even of shared experiences. Our Government should be promoting the things that bring our children together, not the reverse. Yet the Bill imposes on the elected local education authority a duty to promote diversity. Most children prefer to move on with their friends from primary to secondary school rather than being scattered. That certainly helps local social cohesion. The other problem with diversity is that we English can't "do" diversity except through hierarchy. That is at the heart of the Government's proposals.

Some of the most deprived children in some of the worst-off areas are getting the worst education, but it isn't logical to believe that the best way to achieve a good local school for every child is for high standards "trickling down" from a few superior schools. The children getting the worst deal need direct help. That means providing those most in need with more funds, better buildings and equipment, specially trained heads, more and better paid teachers and small class sizes. Whatever the warm words about this, the Government wants to promote competition. But schools that have to compete won't be keen to recruit low-achievers or poor attenders. A highly-publicised trust school with an aggressive recruitment policy for pupils and teachers could destabilise schools around and about to the detriment of the very children we are supposed to be helping.

Some claim that what the Government terms clarifications of policy amount to genuine concessions. I take the Government at its word. In any case, the changes don't affect the basic thrust of the policy. So I say to my colleagues, if they are not convinced by the analogy with how we got into such a mess over Iraq, they should look at the embarrassing state of the NHS. It is the same pseudo marketeers who have been advising ministers on the NHS who have come up with the new policy on schools.

The writer, a Labour MP, was health secretary from 1997-99

React Now

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

KS1 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Supply Teacher re...

KS2 Teaching Supply Wakefield

£140 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Primary Teachers Needed for Supply in Wakefield

£140 - £160 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1&2 Supply Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam