It is a fundamental tenet of being a Tory that a citizen should be free to spend their taxed income according to their own beliefs and aspirations, argues Peter Bingle.
I cannot remember the last time I heard a senior Tory politician, let alone a government minister, praise the independent education sector. Yet it is surely a fundamental tenet of being a Tory that a citizen should be free to spend their taxed income according to their own beliefs and aspirations.
There was a time when Tories at every level went out of their way not only to support independent schools but also actively seek ways of increasing access to them. The Assisted Places Scheme was one of Margaret Thatcher’s most radical policies. She understood the desire of many hardworking families to opt out of the state system and entrust the independent sector with their children’s education. That desire still exists today but this government seems unwilling to either recognise it or help parents reach for the stars.
Parental choice does not seem to be a government priority for education ministers. I am sure Justine Greening is working very hard, but she has the lowest public profile of any Education Secretary in living memory. This does not inspire confidence in the government’s education agenda, whatever it is.
One of the greatest acts of educational vandalism ever committed was the Labour Party’s abolition of direct grant schools. In many of our great cities these schools provided an escape route for bright working class children to fulfil their potential regardless of background. Theresa May should be looking to recreate a new generation of secondary schools to do the same. New grammar schools, although welcome, are not enough.
There is a strong philosophical argument for schools operating outside the state system. Many of the greatest innovations have come from the independent sector. There is an even stronger political argument. Tories should endorse and support those families (many of whom who are not wealthy) who are prepared to make amazing sacrifices to afford school fees. It would be nice to hear Justine Greening praise them.
In the 1980s the then Shadow Education Secretary Neil Kinnock promised to abolish independent schools within ten years. In those days the sector had persuasive and effective advocates. I ran their political campaign! We wiped the floor and Labour retreated. It only happened because Margaret Thatcher and senior ministers were unstinting in their public and private support for independent schools.
Does this government support the right of parents to spend their taxed income on school fees? If they do they need to start saying so loudly and unequivocally. If they don’t they aren’t Tories. Hard pressed parents need to know where the government stands on this fundamental issue. At the moment the silence is deafening.