Choice in education has received much publicity recently. I am immensely proud to have been educated within the Grammar School system (the best education that money cannot buy). In my view the demise of grammar schools has been little short of disastrous for educational standards for the great majority of children educated in the state system in this country in recent decades.
But clearly most educationalists, teacher unions and local education authorities think I am wrong. But do parents with smart children? Judging by the increase in parents choosing independent secondary schooling I would suggest I am right.
Today 27% of children living in Westminster attend fee-paying schools. As a comparison 26% of children in Camden do likewise. In Enfield the total is 3% and in Newham (the lowest percentage in London) it is 1%. Does this mean that state schools in Westminster and Camden are poor? Does this mean that local schools in Enfield or Newham are magnificent? Of course not. As a former parliamentary candidate in Enfield I can say with my hand on my heart that, seven years ago, most schools in that borough were first rate and I have no doubt they are today.
In the latest Department of Education figures record numbers of parents are sending children to private schools all over the country. In inner London one in seven children now goes to an independent school because too many of the local schools have so little ambition in academic accomplishment. In some cases parents are using the increased value of their properties to borrow money to pay for such schooling. They have made the decision to invest in their children’s future and I believe that no parents should be denied this opportunity of making their own decision.
My experience is that it is often some of the poorest parents who are most determined to do whatever they can to better the opportunities for their children. Often they appreciate how limited their own educational opportunities were and are all the keener to strive to better their children’s choice. The success of many of our Church of England schools here in Westminster ? most of which are massively oversubscribed – is a fulsome tribute to that.
We cannot be a caring society if we do not allow the parents in our nation to choose where their children should be educated. Visit London suburbs where grammar schools still exist and you will find many young families who have deliberately moved into the boroughs from other parts of London simply to try to take advantage of their children gaining places in the local grammar schools.
Good local schools were once the vibrant bedrock of this country. But the social engineering specialists and left wing teaching unions have got their hands on many of them which is why more and more parents have voted with their feet and made substantial financial sacrifices to find a better education for their children.
Throughout my life I have valued the importance of individual responsibility, self-reliance and personal initiative yet these enduring attributes count for little without choice. May we never live in a country which denies its people that right.