It is common knowledge that many of those who occupy important positions in the present British government, including a substantial number who are currently engaged in determining the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the next national election, are male and former students of Eton College.
It was, therefore, somewhat surprising that it was recently announced that Michael Gove, the present Secretary of State for Education in the Coalition Government, and his wife, Sarah Vine, the Daily Mail columnist, are to place their daughter in a State Secondary School. If this happens, then Michael Gove will be the first Conservative education secretary to enrol a child in a state funded secondary school.
Gove is not himself an ex-Etonian but, after an initial state primary school experience in Aberdeen, he attended the independent Robert Gordon’s College before studying at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. He has famously said that he “wants all schools to be like Eton” (but has not, so far, outlined how that might become a reality). Sarah Vine describes herself as “mostly the product of the rickety state educational system of the 1980s”. Though some of her schools were “scary” and “bloodcurdling”, they did in their own way “provide me with a broad education”.
Vine considers that it is the miracle of our state system that it, like the NHS, “welcomes all-comers” – the state “doesn’t care where its pupils come from, or whether they can afford the fare, all that matters is where they’re heading”. She agrees that the private sector is built on different principles – selective, ability to pay, pupil potential – all of which encourages student snobbishness, cossetting and distrust of those who are different. The honesty of Gove and Vine is refreshing.
Despite this, however, they now know that their daughter is to attend Grey Coat Hospital Church of England Comprehensive School for Girls (in Westminster). It seems that this school is not exactly “Sinkhouse High”. It is regarded as an “amazing school”, “rated outstanding by Ofsted” and produces “lovely and well-balanced” girls. Who needs private schools when you can get your daughter, or son, into schools like Grey Coat – without paying any fees! The Secretary of State for Education and his wife are a bit out of order.
Still, the fact that Michael Gove and Saran Vine have chosen to send their daughter to a state secondary school, no matter how up-market the school, raises questions for other Conservative grandees. It used to be the case that it was only Labour politicians, particularly those on the left, who came under the microscope about the use of private education – for themselves or their offspring (remember the furore last year when Dianne Abbott announced that she was sending her son to an independent school – she still has not been allowed to forget it).
Indeed, it is reported that the former Labour education minister, Andrew Adonis, now taking his place in the House of Lords, claimed that “politicians who went to private school should have no say in the state education system.” It occurs to me at this point to mention my view that unelected politicians who permit themselves to be called “Lord” should have no say in parliamentary democracy. It would seem that Lord Adonis is a little out of order.
It might well be that the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, is also a tad out of order. Osborne is famous (or should that be infamous?) for saying that, with respect to the present period of British economic austerity, “we’re all in this together”. What may not generally be known is that, in 2008, it was reported that George Osborne had “withdrawn his two children from a state primary school close to the Houses of Parliament, and secured them at an £11,500-a-year prep school.” Perhaps he had a premonition about the austerity to come.
So too, the Prime Minister, David Cameron is facing a decisive choice for his own daughter later this year. The daughter of David and Samantha Cameron attends the same state primary school as Gove and Vine’s. He is said to be “terrified” by the prospect of living in central London and having to find “a good secondary school”. I would suggest that, for the ordinary residents of central London, the Prime Minister is out of order.
The decision taken by Michael Gove and Sarah Vine for their daughter raises the stakes for David and Samantha. On the other hand, in consequence of the result of next year’s parliamentary elections, there are those in the UK who are hopeful that the current Prime Minister and his wife will no longer need to find schooling for their daughter in central London!
There is another family who live in central London and who have made historic use of private education at all levels – though not necessarily in central London. I speak, of course, of the Windsors. This family has upheld many of the most famous, and most expensive, preparatory, primary, secondary and tertiary educational institution that the UK (and elsewhere) has to offer.
It would also seem that the privileges of royalty extend further than mere entrance into the hallowed halls of learning. It is reported that William Windsor, second in line to the British monarchy (another unelected office) was recently accepted for a further degree course by Cambridge University.
Now, it is true that William is also the Duke of Cambridge, but does this justify the fact that he was given entry to the course without an adequate and necessary entrance qualification.
From what Sarah Vine recounts (see the above) it is doubtful whether her academic background, though it resulted in a degree from University College, London, would have got her into a further degree course at Cambridge – even if her husband is the Secretary of State for Education.
This is yet another example of where royalty is out of order – in this case being aided and abetted by one of the UK’s finest and most prestigious universities.
There is something touching and sweet about Michael Gove, at least until the wrapping is removed! It would seem that in recent years, he has written letters of apology to his former teachers for misbehaving in class.
This begs the question, however, as to how long it will be before he writes a letter of apology to teachers in state funded schools. The reason put forward for this suggestion is that, under his watch as the Secretary for State for Education, a plethora of mistakes and injustices are being committed.
These include the following: continuous and ill-advised changes to state funded schools’ curricula and administrative processes; uncalled for expansion of academies and the further privatisation of education; ongoing cutting back of the role of LEAs in state funded education; over-provision and under-supervision of free schools; laissez faire attitudes to free schools under the guise of parental freedom to choose, including the permission to employ unqualified teachers; the refusal to provide extra funding for long overdue building maintenance in state schools, a process commenced by the previous government; references to, but no hard evidence for, the “best” teachers being in independent schools; as well as the impertinence to say that he wants all schools “to be like Eton”.
Touching and sweet – maybe! Out of order – certainly!
It is encouraging to know that I am not alone in my opposition to the misuse of nomenclature with respect to names within the UK.
The journalist Ian Jack has referred to the confusion between the words “nation”, “country” and “state” within the BBC, with “alienating effects in the three parts of the United Kingdom that aren’t England” (see my recent blog article “This sporting life”).
It would seem that, in his recent documentary on the growing economic gap between London and the rest of the UK, Evan Davis used the “country” and “Britain” as interchangeable. The programme was exclusively focused within England, even within the southern half of England. He used such terms as “moving from one end of the country to another” and “the North”, yet still remained within England.
At best this is a limited view of England, at worst it shows an appalling appreciation of specifically English and generally British geography. It may come as no surprise to learn that Evan Davis is from Dorking and, according to Ian Jack, this represent the kind of thinking “where everything north of Oxford Circus assumes a hazy dimension, but editors of the BBC should know better.” Perhaps the BBC is being rather more than a little out of order.
Jack also refers to the “National News at Ten” one night when England’s football match with Denmark was described in detail while viewers were told only that Scotland’s team had won away, without giving the score!
Ian Jack is a Scot, so it comes as no surprise to learn that he regards “the combined effect of these and other metropolitan irritants suggests that the BBC is quietly but effectively campaigning for a ‘Yes’ victory in the referendum”. Now, as fellow Scot, that would be a possibility the present writer would consider very much in order!