In praise of hypocrisy

This morning the Daily Mirror reported that the former Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, had sent her dyslexic son to a special private school because she felt that the provision in her area, Tower Hamlets in east London, was inadequate. As it happens, although the school is reported in the Evening Standard to be a school which specialises in preparing dyslexic and dyspraxic children for entrance exams for private schools, her intention is for her son to return to state education after a couple of years. Her other children are still in state schools.

So, she’s not the hypocrite the mass media are making her out to be. But even if she were, whoever leaked this to the press did so dishonourably. Even if we concede that politicians’ private lives are matters for public exposure and debate, we must surely admit that the pre-teenage children of politicians are entitled to private lives. And I feel very strongly that decisions about children’s education should be made with the children’s own needs put first. Ruth Kelly’s son is not bound by his mother’s political commitments; if he was anyone else’s child, his parents would not be told in the media to put her colleagues’ policy before his interest.

After all, there is a reason why special education provision has gone downhill over the years, and it’s not just because of a dogmatic insistence on inclusion for its own sake. It’s because education is expensive, and New Labour has always been a movement all about making voters unafraid to vote Labour on financial grounds, which means not asking people to pay higher taxes to fund the education of other people’s children and a health service they will only need if they get ill. Of course, if the Labour party is run by someone obsessed with currying favours with the US government by, oh, say, sending British troops into their wars for uncertain benefits, the money has to come from somewhere. But I’ve no doubt that some of the people who were carping at Ruth Kelly today were people who had been afraid to vote Labour at all until the mid-1990s because they were afraid of tax rises. Well, guess what? Someone has to pay for the schools if we’re going to have them.

And the other old saw which was used on Kelly today was “whose fault is it if the local school is bad? You were the education secretary!”. If schools are underfunded and bad decisions are made at her level, it’s clearly her fault. However, if particular schools are dumps, it is likely to be the fault of the teachers and of the local community for raising such riff-raff. My own school (Kesgrave Hall, a special private school) was a nightmare to be in, but I don’t blame Kenneth Baker or whoever was in charge of the education department in the early 1990s despite the fact that the school took local education authority money; I blame the headmaster and his thugs and jobsworths. It’s stupid to blame the education secretary, who is typically in post for just a couple of years and has no educational background, for the poor state of individual schools.

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