The Tories went on a lot about choice and, smelling a winner, new Labour eagerly picked up the baton. But "choice" still means bugger all to anyone other than the most well-educated and well-heeled. The word has become as empty, meaningless and dirty as celebrity, and nowhere more than in relation to schools. Who chooses a sink school over Eton?
The Education Bill promises "parental involvement", but how are, say, working single parents expected to find the time to ensure their children's school is going swimmingly? Clearly, whoever wrote that has never tried to recruit a parent governor; people practically have to give up work to do the job properly. Whatever happened to the quaint notion of leaving it to the professionals?
My two children attend Ashmount Primary in north Islington. Typical of inner London, the school nestles between large council estates and houses that go for anything upwards of £600,000. All the estate kids go to this school. Why wouldn't they? It's on their doorstep. But guess what - the vast majority of the local white, middle-class parents have found a way to get their kids into state schools much further afield but conveniently stuffed with children whose parents likewise own their homes, holiday in Tuscany and eat organic lettuce. None of these parents, much as they would deny it, would choose to send their offspring to a more socially mixed school. Oddly, though, they're quite happy to drink their chilled white wine in their gardens backing on to the estates.
What kind of world are they preparing their children for? Presumably one in which they'll never have to deal with poor people, where everyone knows their radicchio from their kumquat and they've all read Proust (in French, naturellement). It's no coincidence that those involved in drawing up this bill have, or had, children in selective schools - namely Ruth Kelly and Tony Blair. Faith schools exclude the riff-raff via the back door provided by God.
It seems to me that it's all about fear: fear of the unknown, the different, the hooded, the veiled. Everyone wants to drive iden-tical 4x4s and have their Poppies and Jakes play only with the Mollies and Finbars of people just like them. The danger is that, when you're looking in on your cosy, eco-friendly campfire, your arse is exposed and it might just get kicked. Much better to spread that warmth around.