Darcus Howe thinks Trevor Phillips has got it wrong

Did a black politician's career nosedive because his kids go to fee-paying schools?

Trevor Phillips, once a candidate for London's mayor and now a chairman of the Greater London Assembly, tells us in the Mail on Sunday that one of the reasons for his lack of success in the mayoral contest can be attributed to the fact that he sent his children to fee-paying schools.

He gives the evidence. A Labour peer invited him to a meeting at the Lords to discuss his political prospects and told him at once that he should withdraw his children from public school. Trevor didn't, and his political career nosedived.

So what did Trevor do? He shops around in the black community, finds a young man on the edge of being excluded from school, takes the boy out of the black community and dumps him in the Roman Catholic public school Downside.

This has transformed the boy, who will take ten GCSEs next year, into some kind of genius. A film of this process will illustrate, Trevor believes, that he was right to send his children to public school.

It follows, according to Trevor, that all state schools should be brought up to the educational level of Downside and, I suspect, similarly steeped in the public school ethos.

However, Trevor is juggling the actualite. The fact is that the young man had a troubled childhood, with major conflict between mother and father. His difficulties at school stemmed largely from this. Second, Trevor needs to know that a raft of black state-school pupils sit ten GCSEs as a matter of course. They don't need to be transformed into replicas of the white elite in order to do that. I know them; they are in and out of my house regularly and socially integrated with both those who take no exams at all and students with five to seven GCSEs.

Public schools are there to produce an elite. Once it felt it had a right to rule; now we have a meritocracy. To take a young man away from the black community and educate him elsewhere weakens the black community at a time when to sit ten GCSEs is becoming the norm. And here is my beef. It is miserably unfair to any young person, black or white, to have so many GCSEs stuffed down their throats. I know students who could not bear to go on to take A-levels. They felt "brain-tired".

Trevor is way off-beam. We get good GCSE results just around the corner in Brixton. But the issue is not quantity; it is quality. And Trevor must take care not to confuse his political problem with the issues that are at large in the black community.

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