Boys make their way to classes at Eton College. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Only Labour has the will to tackle the private-state education divide

Unlike the Tories, we will confront the issue of a "two nation" education system. 

In February, the New Statesman ran a series of articles on what it called the "private schools conundrum". It claimed that the left had been silent for 40 years on the issue of private schools. I hope, then, that NS readers have heard news of Tristram Hunt’s plans for a new settlement between private and state schools.

And quite right too. Because Tristram's promise to confront the "corrosive divide" between state and private sectors shows that Labour is taking on what many on the left have seen as the elephant in the room.

All that we have had from the Tories is Michael Gove talking down success in state education and a commitment to more of the same. His speech in February revealed the unwillingness of the Tories to confront the historic divide. It is only Labour that has ever taken concrete measures: ending the assisted places scheme; requiring private schools to report on their public benefit; and promoting partnerships via the sponsor academy programme. But we need a step change. And it’s clear, only Labour will deliver this.

The dominance of the privately educated is well-documented. In the professions, in elite sport, in our leading universities, we have a disproportionate number of people making their way from private education to dominance in public life.

It’s not a fair reflection on the talent that is locked out, denied a real shot at the opportunities afforded on the basis of background not merit. Nor does it reflect the vision of the kind of society I want to see for my children and the future of Britain. Yesterday's announcement marked a symbolic intervention from a Labour Party not afraid to take on vested interests.

In his speech at Walthamstow Academy, Tristram vowed that under a future Labour government all private schools enjoying the benefits of a £700m taxpayer subsidy will have to join a meaningful partnership with a state school. Sharing qualified and specialist teachers where the state school requests support; providing university coaching for sixth-formers; and partnering for sport and extra-curricular activities with the state sector. This avoids the removal of charitable status that would see greater isolation of the private sector. Instead, Labour will bridge the gap so that both private and state can learn from each other.

Tristram was absolutely right when he said that neither sector has a monopoly on success. We are absolutely right to reject the Gove analysis that says excellence is exclusive to the private sector. And we are right to confront, head on, the issue of a "two nation" education system.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South. 

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