When I was a little boy, the schools in Grimsby where I was growing up converted from grammar schools into comprehensives. This was Labour party policy and Grimsby was, and still is, a fundamentally Labour town. My father’s friends in teaching told him that the experiment would not work, and that he should get me into a private school if he possibly could.
My parents could not really afford private education. Although my father had his own solicitors’ practice it was not especially profitable. He had been offered jobs in other, larger firms but always felt that loyalty firstly to his father, who had founded the firm, and later to his partners, prevented him from leaving. When he died, I found the firm’s annual accounts and, whilst it gave him a good income by Grimsby standards it was not really sufficient to pay the fees of a private school. But my parents scrimped and saved and off I went. At the time I assumed that we were the last of my friends to have colour TV because my parents were unconvinced of the merits of colour over black and white. Now I know that it was down to economising. My parents’ beloved annual trip to Monte Carlo for the motor racing went the same way. My father kept the same car for 13 years.
Well, the comprehensive experiment was an abject failure. It has now condemned two generations of children whose parents cannot afford private fees, or who do not live near one of the few remaining grammar schools, to a second rate education. As a result on any respected international index of educational attainment, British children perform poorly, especially when compared to our peers in the developed world. Social mobility has been blocked – the route whereby more than 50% of children at Oxford and Cambridge were educated at state schools is no longer there.
Michael Gove was the first education secretary in half a century to take a stand against the prevailing orthodoxy. His free schools proposals, and the massive expansion of Academy status has finally set good schools free to recruit the best teachers, pay them an attractive salary and ensure that social mobility is a reality and not a fantasy. This is a policy aimed squarely at improving the lot of the poorest and most vulnerable in society. It is the single best reason to vote Conservative today.
The Labour party has made it clear that they will return Free schools and Academy schools to LEA control. This will undo all the good work of the past 5 years. Why do they want to do this? Because at heart the Labour party believes that parents should accept whatever the State doles out for their children and be grateful. Because the Labour party has no interest in encouraging the poor to better themselves. They might go and vote Conservative if they do that. This is what any government headed by Ed Miliband would do and this is why they must be stopped. And that is why I will be pounding the streets today.