Horrific Labour conference motion on private schools proposes nothing less than theft

Christ's Hospital Dining Hall
Christ’s Hospital school, Sussex, which has been admitting mainly pupils from less privileged backgrounds since 1552

There has been much debate following the Labour conference’s motion to “abolish private schools”.

When explaining the rules of cricket to the average American, one sees their eyes glazing over even before one reaches mention of “deep square leg”.

It’s the same when you try to explain to them that, in the UK, public schools are private schools. You may reach the point when you feel further explanation is pointless. Why not, instead, try explaining to them that Scotch whisky has no “e”, but Irish whiskey does. It may be easier.

Anyway, I went to a public school. Or, if you prefer, I went to a private school.

There. I’ve said it.

There are two key points to remember in this discussion:

1. Eton is atypical of public schools generally. For every Eton there are hundreds of less rarefied public schools. I went to a school on the fringes of Exmoor which, in the 70s, was fairly down-to-earth. There were no straw boaters.

2. Public schools widen access to their facilities by providing school fee assistance through scholarships and bursaries to pupils whose parents cannot afford the fees (this is means-tested). A third of all pupils at public schools (Independent Schools Council) are on reduced fees and 6,000 pay no fees at all. At Christ’s Hospital in Sussex most of the pupils are on greatly reduced fees or pay nothing at all. Their admission requirements are quite high, academically, though.

I was fortunate to attend public school and I did so only because I managed to win the top scholarship for the school that year. As a result, my parents did not have to pay any tuition fees for me throughout my school career. Otherwise, they would not have been able to afford to send me to the school.

Nowadays I contribute each month to a bursary to send a pupil from a less well-off family to attend my old school. It’s this side of things which gives many independent schools their charitable status. This seems to be strange to some people, but try setting up a charity with the Charity Commission and you’ll find out how stringent their standards are.

In an ideal world I would not want public schools to exist. Indeed, I generally don’t like them. We sent our child to a local state school and I was delighted by the normal social circle which this gave our child. I spent decades recovering from the social isolation at my school and, particularly, from the lack of girls (since corrected).

But I would not ban public schools. It seems to me that, in a liberal society, if people want to spend their money on sending their children to public schools, then let them do it.

In my town, with a good of choice concerning state schools that are arguably just as good, if not better, than many public schools, it would seem unusual to pay money to send a child to a public school, though I can understand why this might happen in the case of particular children who have special needs or are highly gifted.

I also feel that there is, as ever, need for reform and I would start with increasing the requirement of public schools to give reduced fees and fee waivers to those from less privileged backgrounds by tightening the rules for charitable status recognition.

The Labour motion does not abolish public schools per se. They actually decided to remove their charitable status and “redistribut(e) their endowments, investments and properties to the state sector.” That last clause strikes horror in me. They actually want to seize properties from their owners and transfer the ownership to the state?

Someone at conference asked me what the difference between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is, philosophically. Well if there is anything that makes me feel a Liberal and feel horrified by the Labour party, it is that clause: “redistribute their endowments, investments and properties to the state sector”. It’s nothing less than theft.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • “Seize” is an emotive word. Better to say let’s return to the state assets built up on the back of tax breaks and charitable status over the years. Labour appear to me to have come forward with a much more radical and appealing education policy. The Lib Dems approach is like Labours Brexit policy trys to straddle both sides.

  • This, of course, is a topic which splits Lib Dems very deeply. Many of us agree wholeheartedly with the Labour motion. Personally, although I congratulate Paul on his “widened social circle” etc, I think he should clearly recognise that private schools are socially divisive, and that we should be working, certainly by withdrawing charitable status, towards making society rather more equal. I would argue that the system as it exists is somewhat in conflict with the Preamble to our constitution. It is also noticeable that the proportion of our Parliamentary candidates (and elected MPs) are from the private / “public” sector! I think his word “theft” is totally over the top!!

  • “But I would not ban public schools. It seems to me that, in a liberal society, if people want to spend their money on sending their children to public schools, then let them do it.”

    I disagree. Fee-charging schools can afford to outbid for the best teachers, and they remove any interest (many) richer parents have in fixing their local state schools.

    We will not fix state schools when a segment of the population can simply opt out of them, and apply their resources to schools that the vast majority of children will never get near.

  • I would argue that more stringent criteria for charitable status would be appropriate. Declaration of Interest: I went to Christs Hospital.

  • Neil Sandison 24th Sep '19 - 11:49am

    As some one who went to a state school but lives in a borough with one of the most famous private/public schools in the country i do not begrudge people paying/contributing to their childrens education .its their choice .I do object to the school having charitabe status it is a educational business ,and should be subject to some form of business rates . It should teach to the national standards like any other school unless it has nationally recognised speciality but offer free bursarys to the talented . it would be wrong to sequester their assets indeed i am sure that would be fought tooth and nail in the courts .The politics of envy are not liberal .

  • Oh dear, LiDems defending the indefensible.

    Institutions which, are able to claim charitable status, are anything but charitable. Yes, a few sops to the peasants are given, but the REAL way in is money.
    The battle of Waterloo may have been won on the playing fields of Eton but, 200 years later those same playing fields are rented to allow the 2112 Olympic rowing to take place…

    As has been said, when the rules allow the ‘rulemakers’ to opt out of a state system, why should enough priority be given to improve a system they disdain?

  • I went to a public school that provides an excellent education to the boys and girls that attend it.
    If people want to pay for the education of their children, when the state provides a hit and miss education depending on where you live, then as Liberals we cannot stop them doing so. However, we can ensure that the state doesn’t fund them in any way, nor gives them tax exempt status either.
    The only way public schools will cease to exist is when the state provides a top notch education for everyone going to a state school. As Liberal Democrats we are committed to providing a substantial boost in funding for schools and we must be far more rigorous in closing down failing schools or at the very least making them successful.
    What is far more difficult is tackling the public schools network that gives its pupils preference at universities, companies and other national institutions. In the end this amounts to a form of discrimination and needs to be treated as such.
    Once we create the fair and Liberal society we want, then public schools will just be schools, not bastions of privilege and they will probably fade away over time.

  • Peter Holttum 24th Sep '19 - 1:09pm

    A very good (and moderate) piece about independent schools. Of course they should be permitted to continue – indeed an education monopoly by the state is probably a breach of human rights. Pupils at such school also save the save thousands by not requiring space in the state sector. Indeed there is a case for supporting the independent sector as happened in the past with direct grant I think this is still the Australian way.

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Sep '19 - 1:36pm

    If we were creating a Lib Dem society from scratch, believing as we do in equality of opportunity, would we invent public schools to promote that equality?

  • John Marriott 24th Sep '19 - 2:11pm

    As a grammar school boy at Cambridge University in the early 1960s I got a bellyful of entitlement with closed scholarships and the kind of privilege that only public schools could inculcate into its products. I spent 34 years teaching mainly in state non selective schools, both here and abroad. However, I could never support just abolishing private schools. By all means withdraw their charitable status and see how many of them can survive; but just closing them down and dispersing their ‘assets’ is not the way to go.

    Ironically, when I went to university, because of the success of grammar schools, many private schools were struggling to recruit enough students with the kind of ability needed to cope with an academic curriculum. What threw many of them a lifeline was the way that the educational establishment handled the transition from selective to non selective education at secondary level from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s. Until PM Jim Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech called time on the educational free for all that had emerged from the policies of radical educationists given a free hand by politicians both local and national, parents with the means were deserting the state comprehensives in droves. What we need is for the modern equivalent of those parents to be persuaded that the state system can deliver for them and more. However, we need to start with a level playing field.

  • Matt (Bristol) 24th Sep '19 - 2:13pm

    The position Labour has reached seems to me to be precipitate and largely symbolic, purely to motivate its base vote.

    There are a lot of things that could be done to enforce or remove charitable status for these institutions, before they are subjected to a ‘dissolution of the monasteries’ approach.

    But I’m not up for over-hyped language here. Is it theft? Is it really? Is that how people feel about the creation of the NHS, when private and charitable hospitals were taken over or sold and their assets used by the state? Or are we allowed to go all gooey about the NHS whilst we ban the means which created it?

    This policy option – and I stress, the ‘option’ – should remain open to government (particularly local or regional government). It has a place in a social democratic / social liberal political philosophy and outrage doesn’t do us any good.

    I’m reminded of the confected outrage against Ed Miliband’s policies which many people wanted to believe were egregious shocking socialism on a stick. Spare me. Let’s scrutinise the detail and the practicality, and the meaningful impact on community, equality and freedom for the many, before we all clutch our pearls.

  • Nobody who has been to a private school and benefited from that education is going to feel comfortable arguing for their abolition. But reformation and removal of their power to sequester the right to a ‘good education’ in a space only rich people can access is necessary. The author is missing the point by highlighting the charitable work these schools do. In a right and just world this kind of selective redistribution would never be necessary. If money was redistributed into the general education system, how can that be deemed something horrific? Education should never be privately owned (and that goes for FE and HE too).

  • nvelope2003 24th Sep '19 - 2:56pm

    Interesting that Liberal Democrats, who are quite happy to send their children to fee paying schools which select their pupils by ability, want to abolish free state schools which also select by ability. Is it because they do not want their children to mix with the wrong kind of people or do not want the less well off to have the privileges they enjoy ?

    I do not want to close any good schools and the public schools attract many foreign children whose parents contribute to the nation’s prosperity but we should give the same chance to those whose parents are not so well off.

    How will Labour select the children who will attend the nationalised former public schools ? I have a pretty good idea and it should make being a Labour MP or official a much more attractive prospect.

  • David Evershed 24th Sep '19 - 5:32pm

    A Labour government could make parents pay VAT on educational fees.

    Removing education as a reason for charitable status will be difficult as it will affect charities that are not public/private schools.

    Acquiring the property of public/private schools without compensation would likely be illegal.

    So public/private schools will continue in this country under a Labour government, although they will become increasingly unaffordable. Of course the more wealthy parents and their offspring will have gone abroad to a lower tax country.

  • Robin Bennett 24th Sep '19 - 5:52pm

    Apparently Finland has no private schools. It is currently top of the rankings of the world’s happiest countries. Of course, there may be no connection.

  • John Marriott 24th Sep '19 - 6:06pm

    As usual, some LDV contributors are running the risk of equating educating youngsters with, for example, building a motor car. They should realise that dealing with individuals and their specific needs requires a lot more thought and, to be honest, give and take and the acceptance that all will NOT get prizes.

    Call me old fashioned if you like, but I still believe that education at primary and secondary should be directed largely by democratically accountable Local Education Authorities. The last thing we need are more so called free schools or privatised LEAs aka Academy Chains. Sticking the word ‘Academy’ to a school name and the introduction of a smart, and probably expensive, uniform are not going to turn any establishment into a potential Eton College.

    It’s not Paul Walter’s fault that his parents sent him to a private school, just like it’s not my fault that I happened to make it to grammar school or Cambridge University, nor that I actually got a county grant to study there. I just happened to have grown up at a time when those of us who were deemed to be more academic than many of our contemporaries had, in comparison, quite a charmed life.

    Education is in a mess. What happened to vocational education? Testing has gone mad. As they say around here, you don’t increase the size of a pig by just weighing it. The same could be said for our policy on drugs and our decrepit system of governance. We need a few Royal Commissions.

    The opportunities offered today to

  • Laurence Cox 24th Sep '19 - 6:15pm

    Disclosure: I went to a grammar school on an LEA scholarship, which later returned to being an independent school

    In my view, much of the damage to state education that led to parents paying for their children to attend public shools was done by the abolition of grammar schools. While politicians like Tony Crosland and Shirley Williams, both of whom had benefitted from being educated in public schools, had social reasons for abolition and the 11+ examination was a blunt tool for selection, direct grant grammar schools served an important role in improving social mobility that they failed to recognise. In the 1960s I was the first person in my family to go to university; my father would certainly have been capable, but in the 1930s he was denied a place at Warwick School merely because he was the son of a railwayman!

    It is hardly surprising that social mobility has stalled when intelligent children from working-class families are prevented from reaching their full capabilities because of the lack of a good education.

  • I scrimped and saved and struggled to pay for my son to attend the local independent school rather than the local culture-of-failure sink comp he’d have been bullied in otherwise.
    It was a world away from Eton and ‘bastions of privilege’: children of doctors, solicitors, builders, small business owners…

    I paid (still do) taxes to fund other people’s children’s education, AND the LEA saved on the cost of his schooling.
    He now has a good job and a decent salary and is paying taxes.

    Taxing fees won’t affect the rich – it will in fact mean only the rich can afford private education for their children.

  • Taking up John Marriotts submission, were not those of us who went to Grammar Schools, normally about a third of each years cohort, very fortunate. I remember applying for one job, was told Grammar School, you will do alright. Yes I did, I got the job.
    Not really fair was it? But is life fair?. Was it creating unfair competition or creating a managerial / inventive group, who would create and direct the country.
    I have to say I am still not convinced that the system was a bad thing, it did far more to get kids from socially deprived areas, like myself from inner London, to achieve their full potential

  • Roland Postle 24th Sep '19 - 7:11pm

    I wonder if those who want to abolish private schools also want to ban parents from home schooling? (Similar arguments apply whether ‘privileged’ parents with time and skills school their own children, or pay home tutors to do it).

    It seems to me that parents schooling their children how they choose should be a fairly basic freedom, within quite generous parameters that ensure they are actually educated full time and end up with useful skills for adult life ie. something most people would recognise as an ‘education’. Forcing everyone to undergo a homogeneous state-decided education sends chills down my spine. It’s not only illiberal, it’s probably much less conducive to a rich, creative, entrepreneurial society that benefits every individual in it, however they were educated.

    Tweaking tax incentives (in an evidence-based way), and looking at approaches to prevent private schools monopolising the best teachers seem like very worthwhile goals, but it can’t be right to dismantle them wholesale. The problem of differing education standards isn’t even restricted to private schools, there’s a huge range of quality within state education.

    We need to reduce financial inequality, and improve state education both in quality and diversity. Not go about restricting freedoms which can be bought. That’s a quest could end in a very miserable place for everybody.

    Very few complain about private healthcare (mainstream and alternative) taking the burden off the NHS, and most private doctors seem to work in the NHS as well. No doubt there are differences between healthcare and education that prevent this situation being replicated exactly in schools but perhaps it’s a useful model to aim for.

  • John Marriott 24th Sep '19 - 7:35pm

    ‘Cassie’s’ description of state education in many ways encapsulates what is wrong. As I was intending to say in conclusion to my previous post, the opportunities offered today to youngsters, which are massive compared with what was available in my day, are often crowded out by the inability of schools to explain to parents in terms that all can comprehend exactly what they are attempting to achieve. Equally, the unwillingness to admit that there may be difficulties at the chalk face, for fear of recriminations from elsewhere, makes any progress towards a real partnership between parents, students and the schools themselves very difficult. Just abolishing private schools rather than making state schools the go-to schools for the majority of parents, who have the means ostensibly to bypass them, is, in some ways, an admission of defeat.

  • “When explaining the rules of cricket to the average American, one sees their eyes glazing over even before one reaches mention of “deep square leg”.
    Not just Americans Paul, not just Americans.

  • Peter Martin 24th Sep '19 - 8:03pm

    @ Robin Bennett,

    “Apparently Finland has no private schools. It is currently top of the rankings of the world’s happiest countries.”

    It is also one of the least unequal and with a high level of social mobility. And of course there could well be a connection!

    Incidentally, I’d say there were even happier before the euro caused them some economic problems!


  • The vast majority of the population is educated in the state sector. Contrary to the distorting effects of having a political and journalistic class dominated by the privately educated, they are not all experiencing knife crime, failure hell on earth. The biggest block to access to these profession is like employing like. Even when you get much trumpeted attempts at diversity the candidates will also tend be old Etonians or whatever. The biggest advantage of getting rid of the entrenched networking advantages of things like private education is that it levels the playing field allowing for upward mobility and fresh voices in public life. It also allows the formally advantaged the chance to compete, thus experiencing the thrill of worked for success or failure.

  • Jack McKenna 24th Sep '19 - 9:35pm

    Personally I don’t like the idea of banning private schools.

    I feel the system needs a lot of reform and could you start by removing the charitable status of private schools or introducing a quota system so a certain percentage of students pay no fees whatsoever.

    It also won’t change the fact that rich families will be able to afford housing near the best state schools and will still be able to afford private tuition.

  • My wife was a teacher in the state sector.
    Who here actually believes that closing private schools will improve, in the tiniest way, the violent, disinterested, disrespectful and utterly uncontrollable elements that now control our classrooms?
    Before I am treated to the expected “Oh, no our comps are perfect” piffle, I repeat that my wife spent her career in state schools.

    Find the courage to fix the real problems before scapegoating public schools. I was educated in the state sector and it was a dreadful experience.

  • John Marriott 25th Sep '19 - 7:18am

    @Hard Rain
    No, buddy, you are perfectly right – and I speak after spending most of my teaching career in comprehensive schools. If you could ‘remove’ one or two ‘hardcore’ students from most classes, life would be much easier. I was saying that twenty or more years ago and was ridiculed by my pastoral care colleagues aka as Heads of Year, busy climbing up the greasy pole of promotion. To paraphrase the words of a certain Nigel Farage to the EU Parliament after the referendum, they’re not laughing now!

    There has been a tendency in many schools of senior management failing to back up individual teachers as stroppy youngsters quite often have stroppy parents. However, abolishing private schools or going back to secondary moderns is not the answer.

    As Bob Dylan sang, “A hard rain’s gonna fail” before we wake up to the need to tackle what the late Terry Casey of the NASUWT used to call the “corridor cowboys”.

  • The largest factor amongst those which have correlations with the results of children at key stage 4 is the income of the parents. Increasing numbers of children are living in poverty. We can only deal with this by increasing incomes so that no child lives in poverty.
    The group of children with the worst results are those who are looked after by the local authority. We need to give this group real priority.
    There is a need to stop talking about statistics and money and start talking about the stories of individual children.

  • Hard Rain 24th Sep ’19 – 10:20pm……John Marriott 25th Sep ’19 – 7:18am…………

    Both your posts are examples of why the state system won’t improve. Imagine if your disruptive pupils were in a private school system, where no mechanism to remove/educate them existed; what would happen? A way would be found.
    Still, why bother, because they are all in the state system and are the very reason why Cassie (24th Sep ’19 – 6:16pm) scrimped and saved to avoid what those parents, who couldn’t raise the ‘wherewithall’, were stuck with.

    Poe’s “The Mask of the Red Death” shows the folly of hiding from problems rather than tackling them!

  • There are some significant (and probably false) assumptions behind the Labour policy, including:
    – Abolishing private schooling would have no non-educational effects. There would be, at the very least, an effect on house prices, as those with the disposal income (freed up by not paying school fees) would move to homes closer to “better” state schools.
    – Teachers are better in private schools than state schools. Teachers may be treated better in the private sector (not least because the administrative burden is likely to be less) but the average state school teacher is likely to be better trained and therefore a better classroom practitioner (especially because private school teachers are not required to be trained)
    – Funding per pupil directly correlates to outcome. The assumption is that because private schools spend more per pupil than state schools, then the outcome is bound to be better. It is likely that cultural factors (indicated by the number of books in a young child’s home) play a key role in determining educational outcome. Clearly, having access to more resources makes teaching easier, but does it necessarily directly affect outcome?

  • John Marriott 25th Sep '19 - 11:14am

    When Harold Wilson back in the 1960s referred to comprehensive schools offering “a grammar school education for all”, I think he was slightly misleading us. What those of us who were against selection at 11 were after was a level playing field. What we didn’t expect was for politicians, notably Tory education minister, Edward Boyle and later his Labour successor, Tony Crosland, to hand over the transition to the educational establishment with only a light touch control. As a result plans were rushed through and, in many newly created all ability schools pastoral care became a key factor at the expense of academic excellence. Frankly, the grammar school baby was thrown out with the bath water. Mixed ability teaching became the norm, some ‘progressive’ schools encouraged students to be on first name terms with their teachers and achieving good exam results became less important. The scandal at William Tindale School in London, together with Callaghan’s Ruskin College speech, helped to get the politicians back on board. However, then the pendulum swung back the other way, and far too far in my opinion.

    We’ve had GM schools, Foundation Schools, Free schools and ‘academies’. We’ve also had a National Curriculum, SATS and league tables. Introducing competition between schools at all levels has encouraged the annual beauty contest as they vied with each other to attract parents and their offspring meant a survival of the fittest and a reluctance to admit failings, with a few individuals trousering quite large salaries as ‘school leaders’.

    I could go on; but let me just end by saying that, if disruptive students could have been removed and if more senior managers had had the courage to back their staffs and, indeed, stood up to parents, both pushy and just stroppy, we might be in a far better place than we currently are. Better still, if they had been offered a curriculum more appropriate to their needs, with the opportunity that an all ability school could offer if circumstances changed, we would not need to agonise as to whether or not we needed to abolish private schools.

  • John Marriott 25th Sep ’19 – 11:14am…

    Thanks for the history lesson; no irony intended. However, quoting history, as an example, is only useful if we learn from it…
    The various examples you quote are just tinkering with a system that needs a radical rethink. “Academies”, etc. are just an excuse to take the best from a bad system and ‘rebadge’ it…The old Russian adage about ‘a sled being chased by wolves’ comes to mind.

    As long as those who, by whatever means can opt out of any system, be it Education, Health or Housing, the situation for those at the bottom will only get worse. Cassie’s ( 24th Sep ’19 – 6:16pm)….”I paid (still do) taxes to fund other people’s children’s education, AND the LEA saved on the cost of his schooling. He now has a good job and a decent salary and is paying taxes.” says why she has ‘done her bit’ and the ‘devil take the hindmost.
    Those at the bottom can’t change it and, as long as those in the middle can escape it, those at the top must be forced to change it.

  • Phil Beesley 25th Sep '19 - 1:57pm

    Alasdair Brooks: “I spent two years as a boarder at a private school (it was in Scotland, so it was a private school, not a public school). It was also specialist music school (at which point eagle-eyed Scots can probably work out which school), so perhaps doesn’t fit as neatly into this discussion as your more stereotypical English or Welsh public school.”

    That Scot, Alasdair, made good points. Private schools are not always about cramming the offspring of the rich. And in devolved government, the UK already has different systems of education, private and social.

    Private schools provide specialist vocational education (drama, music, dance), assistive education for people with hearing or visual impairment, for people needing help. Specialist education is not all about creating the best chance at Oxbridge.

    One of the things about Liberals, I learned to believe, is that people are different and benefit from different opportunities. The great thing about socially-funded schools is that they have different head teachers and staff, creating different environments in different schools. So if one school does not fit your ethos, you can pick a different one for your child. Ha, who gets any real choice? How many head teachers are permitted to operate on the principle that pupil count should be between 600 and 700 (much lower is better) and to prefer smaller numbers?

  • John Marriott 25th Sep '19 - 2:32pm

    Can I assume that you are in favour of abolition when it comes to private schools? Personally, I haven’t much time for them; but the idea of just getting rid of them strikes me as being illiberal and, quite frankly unnecessary. You see, if we hadn’t made such a dog’s breakfast out of our state schools, it would not be necessary.

    The reason I am so annoyed is because some of us had identified where we were going wrong years ago, but our more progressive colleagues were too busy jumping from one transatlantic bandwagon to the other, and doing very nicely, thank you. Call it sour grapes if you want. It could have been so different.

  • John Marriott 25th Sep '19 - 9:47pm

    @Paul Walter
    Bob Monkhouse, what a great comedian. I was searching for one of his one liners with which to reply. How about this one? I hope I’ve got it right:

    “People say ‘You’re a comedian, tell us a joke’. They don’t say ‘You’re an MP, tell us a lie’.

  • ohn Marriott 25th Sep ’19 – 2:32pm…@expats….Can I assume that you are in favour of abolition when it comes to private schools? Personally, I haven’t much time for them; but the idea of just getting rid of them strikes me as being illiberal and, quite frankly unnecessary. You see, if we hadn’t made such a dog’s breakfast out of our state schools, it would not be necessary……………….


    And regarding the condition of our state education system; when you ask those who make the rules, and hold the purse strings, to sufficiently fund a system they will never, ever use what do you expect?

    Do you doubt that if, by some act of god, private schools were reduced to the same condition the remedy would not be immediate and unlimited.

  • @ Robin Bennett,
    “Apparently Finland has no private schools. It is currently top of the rankings of the world’s happiest countries.”

    @Peter Martin
    “It is also one of the least unequal and with a high level of social mobility. And of course there could well be a connection!”

    And according to the World Health Organisation it also has the eighth highest level of suicide in Europe and six of those above it come from countries formerly in the USSR. I wonder if there is any sort of connection at all.

  • John Marriott 26th Sep '19 - 10:41am

    Thanks for putting me right. I don’t want to bore the pants off people by explaining yet again where we went wrong when we collectively agreed back in the 1960s to reform a system that was just not delivering for large swathes of our schools’ populations, particularly at secondary level.

    What we have ended up with is a system whose modus operandi is one of competition. Treating schools as quasi businesses, which is what the introduction of LMS (local management of schools) back in the late 1980s heralded, coupled with an overly proscriptive National Curriculum, a new exam (GCSE) using criterion referencing rather than norm referencing, which helped to cause grade inflation, the squeezing out of vocational education and the undermining of LEAs by the introduction of Grant Maintained schools, whose financing came straight from Central Government, has created an atmosphere of ‘dog eat dog’ between what are still ostensibly state schools, where admission of failure in any way has become a sign of inadequacy. No wonder teachers are leaving the state system in droves.

    My answer is to return all academies and free schools to a ‘light touch’ LEA control. Then we need to create a new Diploma of Secondary Education where the vocational has equal esteem with the academic. We need to tackle ill discipline in schools by supporting teachers and heads and not necessarily parents. One of the ways of doing this is to offer a curriculum with which the majority of students can identify. For persistent ‘offenders’ other sanctions need to be applied. As I said in a previous thread, if you remove a couple of students either temporally or permanently from most classes, order can be restored pretty quickly. The vast majority of students have always wanted and still want to get on with their education. Why should the antics of a small minority prevent them from doing it?

    If we can get to grips with our state schools, we would have nothing to fear from our private schools.

  • If removing exclusive cliques who have dominated British society is the aim the more effective approach would be to ban anyone who took PPE at Oxford from politics or the civil service. Shallow thinking types, many of whom have been disastrous for the UK.

    So it is not but it is not about improving anything.

  • Now Labour intend to take over private schools, close them and apparently re-distribute their assets ( rowed back on later that week perhaps as too extreme?), including buildings and land, while forcing everyone into the State system. No wonder Corbyn supported Venezuela and refused to withdraw that because that is exactly what they have been doing there to companies, albeit with much private gain rather than just state gain. I think the family owned and small companies owning the schools will see the results much the same.

    I thought Labour had gone past their nationalisation without compensation phase and that the Soviet Union and Communism was dead? Half of the private schools have charitable status and about half pay taxes as companies, with some run by churches such as the Quakers.

    But what about levelling (probably down) the standard of education to bring UK equality?
    The answer is that it’s a big world out there and people increasingly have to compete in a world of 7 billion and not just 66 million on this rainy Island

    Corbyn is not in any way a Social Democrat as is sometimes suggested. He is a hard left menace and he makes the opposition beating the Tories a whole lot harder as he has completely abandoned the centre ground to LibDems and Nationalists.

  • john 30th Sep ’19 – 12:40pm……………….I thought Labour had gone past their nationalisation without compensation phase and that the Soviet Union and Communism was dead?…

    However, reprivatising a railway that, having failed under privatisation, and was delivering vast sums to the treasury as a public company, is OK?

    Publicly owned transport, utilities, etc. is the norm throughout Europe; there doesn’t seem to be an irrational link with a long past Soviet Union and Communism there.

    I thought that the ‘Reds under the beds’ hysteria had died out with the McCarthy era witch hunts; clearly, I was wrong.

  • nvelope2003 30th Sep '19 - 2:38pm

    expats: a privatised railway system that carries more than twice as many passengers as the nationalised railway can hardly be called a failure. It only started to have problems when Mr Grayling interfered with the running of the private companies to get them to stop guards opening and closing the doors despite the customers wanting to keep them and what had been an almost strike free railway was soon in trouble on the routes affected by the change. Maybe I have been lucky but I find the railways much better and apparently so do most of the users. Maybe you are always looking for problems and cannot see any good in anything not owned by the state. No state system would ever manage to ensure that everyone had a seat even at the busiest times. The cost would be enormous and involve not just more trains and carriages but the building of extra tracks and new signalling systems on some lines. The vast majority who rarely if ever use trains would soon start to complain about having to pay taxes for the privileged commuters to go to their well paid jobs at subsidised fares when they had no buses to get to work and no hospitals or schools within 20 miles.

    The idea of a publicly owned railway delivering vast sums of money to the Treasury is only in your dreams.

  • nvelope2003 30th Sep ’19 – 2:38pm……..expats: a privatised railway system that carries more than twice as many passengers as the nationalised railway can hardly be called a failure. It only started to have problems when Mr Grayling interfered with the running of the private companies…….

    Do you even check your facts before posting? The East coast Private Franchise collapsed for the third time in 2018. It was renationalised between 2009 when GNER ,and afterwards National Express, had failed owing money to the treasury (BTW, in 2099, Chris Grayling and the Tory party weren’t even in government) and renationalised, as a political ploy. in 2015.

    As for…..The idea of a publicly owned railway delivering vast sums of money to the Treasury is only in your dreams,,,,

    Public ownership transformed the failing network and the public company won 13 industry awards, including that of being Britain’s top employer. There was a 4.2% increase in ticket sales year-on-year, £208.7m returned to the taxpayer year on year in premium and dividend payments, and a record level of customer satisfaction.

    It was the second largest rail contributor to the treasury. An exceptional achievement considering that, while Virgin, on the west coast, received £179.6m in revenue support from the government since 2009 and a £1.2bn network grant, the publicly owned DOR had no revenue support and a lesser, £980m network grant.

    Still, why let facts spoil political blindness.

  • @nvelope2003 – re: railways – you are overlooking the large public investment that was necessary to get the formally state owned and controlled railways into something fit for privatisation…
    Also expats is also right, Directly Operated Railways have achieved some outstanding successes showing up both the level of incompetence in the private operators and the incompetence in the DoT in drawing up sensible franchise contracts; could it be because it has been able to avoid the “English malaise”?

    I think the relevance of this to education is simple, particularly given the informed history lesson from John Marriott, there is a need to break with entrenched positions and attitudes. This means effectively taking steps to both destroy the elitist perception of private schools and making state schools more business-like and professional – remember the top 10% of state schools are more than a match academically(*) with the private sector. But also to do, exactly what the government had to do with the railways and make a massive investment in schools, for example there really is no reason for teachers having to devote their evenings etc. to school work (similarly there is no reason why children’s homework has to take up their evenings, when they should be doing other activities that go beyond the curriculum).

    (*) By academically, I mean both in terms of pure results but also in terms of value add; what private school can claim from a normal ability distribution intake, that over 75% of the year group achieved the baccalaureate standard at GCSE and with their overall results being 9% above the norm for that year group across the country?

  • nvelope2003 30th Sep '19 - 8:33pm

    expats: The East Coast mainline is a profitable route which is straightforward to operate and does not have the same complicated route structure as the West Coast line which had not been modernised since the 1960s electrification. The reason why the private companies failed was because they offered premium payments which were unrealistically high and as a result were losing money instead of making profits. I do not think there is much point in tendering profitable routes for reasons of political dogma. The DfT has little expertise and operation of railways would be better in the hands of professional railwaymen, as would the operation of buses.
    Most of the railways were failing to cover their operating costs by about £2 billion but now make an operating profit of £200 million. All the railway systems outside Japan and the USA, including Britain’s, are publicly owned although European countries are putting the actual operation of loss making services out to tender by private companies. Almost every study I have seen shows that state operated railways require massive subsidies. I did spend most of my working life in public transport.

    Apart from commuter routes and some long distance fast services most rail services are not really value for money but if the British prefer to spend their “hard earned” money on them instead of drugs, gambling and alcohol who am I to complain as I like travelling on them when I can.

  • Mick Taylor 30th Sep '19 - 9:05pm

    Expats, we have n idea who will be in power in 2099. If I live that long I would be 149!

  • nvelope2003 2nd Oct '19 - 2:34pm

    Expats/ Roland : The East Coast route is the only franchise where the franchisees have had to stop. All the others have continued to operate but most of them were formerly loss making and the tenders were for subsidies not premiums. There was always great pressure to win franchises and as the EC is profitable the bidders had over optimistic ideas of the potential to increase profits which were encouraged by the D f T in order to push up the premiums. They got extra money out of the bidders for a while so the taxpayers lost nothing as they would never have got the profits over hyped by the Government. Now they do not get any tenders and franchises are having to be extended without any competition because the Government and their civil servants (almost all Oxbridge, public school etc) do not understand the way the railways work. Even the foreign state owned railways seem to have lost interest although that might be the result of Labour’s nationalisation plans so they have already cost us money before they have even been implemented.
    As regards Mr Grayling, he might have ruined the journey to work for people in the South East but he had the sense not to try to privatise the profitable East Coast again.
    I guess if you told an RMT guard how much you like the publicly owned East Coast line he will look happy after reading his union’s propaganda. The South Western Railway is pretty good too.

  • @nvelope2003 – Don’t disagree; however, thanks to the success of Directly Operated Railways,we can have a more informed discussion on what is and isn’t working.
    Returning to education, I think the sensible path is some mix of state and private education, however I fully get, we have English history tripping us up at every step, somehow we need to break out of the us-and-them battle between traditional conservative bosses and the equally traditional and entrenched unions – both in their blindness are destroying this country.

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