Last month the New Statesman ran a series of articles looking at the “Berlin Wall” divide between private and state schools. The headline essay was by historian David Kynaston, and his son George, who worked as a teacher in a Birmingham state school. Looking back over the past 60 years or so, they berated Labour for failing to deal with inequities between the two.
Respondents such as Andrew Adonis, Anthony Seldon, and I, gave our own thoughts. Adonis, for example, suggested private schools should enter the state system through academisation. I recommended we follow India and require privates to freely provide 25% of their places via random lottery.
Michael Gove also jumped in. He made a speech lamenting the “The Berlin Wall” between private and state schools, & also arguing it must be brought down. (Though it was a bit more rhetoric than reality). He also wrote a follow-up NS article in which he taunted Labour’s failure to grasp the problem, then completely neglected to address my policy suggestions.
But, worst of all, was the disappointment of Tristram Hunt. So far he has been entirely silent on the affair somewhat proving the Kynastons’ right that Labour’s lack of courage on this issue betrays their alleged left-wing leanings.
Subsequently, George Kynaston and I emailed one another, disappointed by Labour’s reaction and wondering how we could push politicians to be more serious. Gove can make endless speeches, but it’s pointless without action. Continued silence from Hunt is unforgivable.
George suggested that only if all the suggested policies were adopted would “The Wall” even begin to shift. He outlined them in one of his emails, and I agreed.
So, here is our Berlin Wall Manifesto. It’s for politicians serious about bringing it down. If they really want change, they will sign up to everything. Not just the soundbites. Not the favourites of their voters, or donors, or next door neighbour. ALL OF THEM are needed. Anything less is cowardice.
The Berlin Wall Manifesto: For Politicians Serious About The State/Private Divide
- Require private schools to sponsor at least one academy, and/or work in partnership with an academy provider, giving access to facilities and staff.
- Allow private schools to convert to state school status through the Free Schools & Academies Programme
- Make private school charitable status conditional on freely offering 25% of places via random lottery to the most vulnerable children. No academic selection allowed.
- Weaken the link between private schools and top universities by providing the highest GCSE scorer in each state school the opportunity to take a guaranteed interview at their choice of Cambridge, Durham or Oxford.
- Disclosure of private schools’ accounts to give full details of bursaries, charitable activities and their impact.
- Agree to take part in a Cross-Party Commission dedicated to finding the most practical way to fully implement these policies.
Are some of these difficult? Sure. Are they impossible? No. If we really want to, all of these could be implemented. So from now on any politician making claims about private schools will find me sticking this in front of them and looking for agreement. If serious, they’ll agree. If not, we’ll know that “The Berlin Wall” was a disappointingly convenient soundbite.