Education secretary sends his children to private schools but suggests it was wife’s decision

Nadhim Zahawi hails private education as tool to help ‘level up’ country – and attacks universities ‘tilting system’ for state pupils

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 22 May 2022 14:29
Comments
Education minister says his children go to a private school

The education secretary has acknowledged that he sends his children to private schools – but suggested his wife was behind the decision.

Nadhim Zahawi, who is responsible for state schools across England, was asked why he – like Boris Johnson – chose to pay to send his three children to independent schools instead.

The question came as Mr Zahawi hailed private schools as a tool to help “level up” the country and criticised universities that admit state pupils with lower A-level grades.

After saying the country has “brilliant state schools and they’re getting better every day”, he was asked: “You still sent your children to private school though?”

“That was a parental decision; I had to make that with my wife. I don’t make that on my own,” 54-year-old Mr Zahawi told Sky News.

It was put to him that a major study of 132,000 students had found that those from state schools with slightly lower grades than their private school peers are more likely to achieve a top degree.

But Mr Zahawi attacked the idea of “tilting the system”, arguing: “You don’t level up by dragging people down.”

He pointed to state academies being run by the likes of Eton College as an example of “bringing everybody together”, adding: “You don’t succeed by delivering a great outcome for every child by actually attacking a part of the system. I don’t want to attack independent schools – they do a great job.”

Mr Zahawi is one of the cabinet’s richest members, boasting a £10m property portfolio having made his fortune as co-founder of the polling organisation YouGov.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, spending in state and private schools was about the same – but a huge gap has emerged since, as spending in state schools was squeezed.

Mr Zahawi, who was educated in both the state and the private sector, also recalled being racially abused and dunked head-down in a pond by bullies during his own school days.

He described the case of 11-year-old Raheem Bailey – who had to have a finger amputated after he was injured while fleeing from school bullies – as “sickening”.

“I suffered bullying when I first arrived on these shores,” Mr Zahawi recounted, adding: “I couldn’t speak English and it was hard.

“I remember my first experience, being chased around the park as a sort of entertainment for bigger boys, and them throwing me in the pond, or dunking my head down in the pond – pretty horrific for a child who has just arrived on these shores.”

Asked if there was a racist element to the bullying, the education secretary replied: “I don’t know, it was a long time ago, but I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of other racist slurs.”

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