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January 08, 2007


Marcin Tustin

I know that you dote on Mrs. Kelly, but your response to #1 is inadequate. In this context Gibson is suggesting that the (vicarious) incentives of ministers should be aligned with those of ordinary people, by them also using the public services that most of us must use. This is a cogent criticism, and one that ought to be (and frankly, can be) addressed.


I see your point, Marcin. I suspect my reply to point 2 is partly a reply to point one; inidividual ministers just don't have the power to improve all state schools.
If they were forced to send their kids to state schools, they'd move house or game the system like middle-class parents do. Or the PM would appoint people with either no children or grown-up ones to be ministers. Or worse still, schools in ministers' areas would become good, without necessarily any widespread improvement in state schools generally.
None of these are an improvement on ministers' opting out of the system.
And although there are lots of women I dote on, Ruth isn't really one - not now anyway.


State schooling is an experiment that failed. Try summat else.


Surely you cannot verify whether private schools produce a disproportionate amount of knobheads or not: but they do produce overconfidence in knobheads' opinion of their own worth, and they also produce a certain bond with all alumni of their institutions, regardless of their quotient of knobheadedness, which means some other knobhead who has risen to a position of prominence is willing to give a platform to these younger knobheads on a basis other than merit.


That is: it's the networks that matter.


"State schooling is an experiment that failed. Try summat else"

I know its baiting, but why exactly has it failed as an overall system, as opposed to merely being a system with pockets of failure and success?

If I was to adopt a pure quantitative approach then measuring the success or failure of the system would be easy. I’d look at indicators such as the number of people who attend university now compared with before, the exam results they produce, and the sorts of jobs the people end up with. In all three cases state education has improved the numbers attending university (and research indicates that state-educated pupils who reach university get better degrees than privately educated ones), has improving exam results year on year, and most of us now don’t work in manufacturing jobs, but in skilled industries. I’m playing devil’s advocate here of course, statistics rarely tell the whole story and can easily be manipulated as I’ve just done.

But the point is this: the education system is perpetually portrayed in the media as failing, and the government reforms it every few years when it needs some headlines. Even if these reforms “work” they will never be publicized as such by the press, whose editors would frankly fail the exams they decry as easy, so the incentive to constantly reform remains. Whereas any member of the teaching profession would probably explain that political reforms are the last thing they need – they just want to be able to get on with their jobs without political interference, constant paperwork and monitoring. But no political party would do this, as the press would simply make up stories about loony left teachers teaching kids that the British Empire wasn’t entirely positive, and the central control comes back.

So I’m basically saying that I’m skeptical about the education system needing wholescale reform, overall its basically doing what it should do, and throwing the baby out with the bathwater would be ill advised.

Marcin Tustin

Chris, I still don't see that merely having kids would discourage many ambitious politicians from entering the government. I also do not see any vice in making them play the same tricks as other members of the middle classes, as it still keeps them in contact with the system. I doubt that many ministers would be able to improve only their local schools without also benefitting some others, which would still be a net benefit (assuming it isn't done at the cost of others).

Instead, I think that the answer must be that to ban private education for ministers' children is to put the sins of the parent onto the child.

Rob Spear

The government in our current system is primarily made up of spin doctors, sycophants, and other miscellaneous sociopaths. Putting people whose livelihood depends on winning elections in charge of the education system is like putting foxes in charge of the henhouse.

Bishop Hill

Hold on. Ruth Kelly is in favour of a tax funded education system - one in which, for all but the richest, the state is the only provider. This takes from the majority the ability to choose the most suitable education for their children, an ability which Ruth Kelly herself seems keen to take advantage of.

She is effectively saying that she would rather that choice in education should be for the rich only, rather than for everyone.

I just wish she'd say so clearly.


Umm, she did however oversee past of the process by which numerous special needs schools were closed down, in accordance with the dogma that such children should be taught in main-stream schools. It is therefore rather hypocritical to insist her child needs specialist help.

And it's a bit disingenuous to excuse her from resigning because no minister can agree 100% with policy. That's true, but the Sec of State for Schools should clearly resign if they disagree with education policy.
The thing I object to is that she is only to able to opt out because she is rich enough to effectively turn her back on the money she has already paid in tax. If there was a voucher scheme, millions more would be able to do this. Again, something that as an education minister she should have thought of.

Backword Dave

I used to think that 'Dyslexia is middle-class for "thick"' was merely prejudice. Now I know it's true.

Gabriel M.

Yes. Destroy real value because of a demented vision of conformism. Good idea.

Socialism ("leftism", sorry) makes everyone equal. Equally stupid, poor and at the mercy of bureaucrats.

Chris Williams

The problem with Kelly isn't that she's made this choice, but that she's in a position to make it. Like a lot of British parents, I imagine that if I had £15,000 per annum to spare, I could make my kids' lives much easier. The broader problem is that in government and in the media, the basic parameters of 'the way things are and the way things ought to be' are set by people who are almost all within the richest 5% of the population, and have thus decided that 'class' is a useless anachronism.


On the "complete and utter knobheads" point, my personal experience, having been educated at a comp and then going to a posh university, is that people who have gone through the private education system are either complete and utter knobheads of utterly lovely people - the latter being those who have seen through the bullshit of privilege and entitlement.

And I refute that state schooling has failed. At the risk of going all anecdotal on you, it did fine by me and many of my contemporaries.

Christopher G D Tipper

But let's be honest. Our main reason for hating private education is that it disproportionately churns out people who are complete and utter knobheads.

This post was great until the idiotic comment in the last sentence. Are you still bearing the scars of an 'edjucation' at a 'bog-standard' comprehensive, or are you just envious?


It's about incentives. I think it was chris who pointed out that education is a positional good - if ministers can send their kids to the best schools - their incentive is to make all the other schools worse, not better, as that will give thier kids a better chance in life. All the state schools should be ranked and ministers should HAVE to send their children to a school in (say) the bottom 100. The schools should be re-ranked annually and their kids moved if the school they are at has risen out of the lowest 100. Ministers need to be incentivised to sort out the schools, if they don't like it they can quit. If they need any medical treatment, they should have to have it at the worst hospital in the country - then thye might sort the NHS out as well.


Christopher - I went to a grammar school. Please don't confuse envy with contempt.

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