Today, the results of the Conservative Party leadership election are announced, and 160,000 members of the Conservative Party have anointed as Prime Minister yet another public schoolboy.
The 20th British prime minister to be educated at Eton – Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson – will enter 10 Downing Street this week.
This notably undemocratic “election” has highlighted how class-ridden our society still is, and has brought to the forefront of debate our segregated education system.
Our grassroots Labour party campaign, Labour Against Private Schools, calls for the integration of all private education into the state sector. We are supported by a number of high profile MPs including Ed Milliband, Laura Pidcock and Clive Lewis and this week nearly 300 Labour Party Councillors from across the country signed an open letter to the Sunday Times, supporting this radical shift in Labour Party policy on private education.
In this letter our councillors rightly reject the grossly inflated claims made by the Independent Schools Council, in an unsolicited letter received by many councillors across the country earlier this week. The letter, in an attempt to spread fear, claimed that an end to the burning injustice of educational class segregation would create an “unbearable burden”. It threatened that jobs would be lost and that thousands of children would find themselves without school places overnight.
These arguments come from a deliberate misinterpretation of the aims of our campaign. These schools will not disappear, they will instead be integrated into the state school system. All staff, most of whom originally trained at cost to the state, will retain their jobs and positions, and all pupils will continue to have their school places.
We are not calling for these schools to be torn down, as ISC Chair Barnaby Lennon falsely claimed. Simply put, private school investments and properties will be redistributed democratically and fairly across all of the country’s educational institutions.
Eton alone has over £400 million in assets and properties. Would these resources not better serve the most vulnerable, rather than those who already enjoy a number of great advantages in life?
This might seem a radical leap, in fact it is not. I am often asked why private schools are called public schools. It is because many of the larger private schools – including Eton, Harrow, and Winchester – were founded for the education of poor scholars. I don’t think anyone could claim that is still the case.
For example, when Eton college was founded more than 600 years ago by Henry VI (himself the state), it was written into its charter that all pupils should be poor boys drawn from the local community. Harrow was established by Royal Charter, with local pupils on full scholarship. Winchester, too, opened for 70 poor scholars. Now, only 1% of all pupils in private education are on 100% bursaries, leaving those from the most deprived households without access to these private schools. We want these schools returned to the state to serve their original purpose.
I have worked for my whole career in state schools in some of the most deprived regions of the country. My current school has 40% of pupils eligible for free school meals and draws its intake from one of the top 1% of most deprived wards in the country. I want to see my pupils enjoy the same opportunities and outcomes as the privately educated boys of Eton and Charterhouse.
The ISC claims that an end to segregation will cause an “unbearable burden” on council funding as the government has to find funds for 7% more pupils. I say to this that we are already facing an unbearable burden. My school has faced over £1million in budget cuts over the past five years due to Tory austerity.
At the same time, children at private schools have 300% more spent on their education than children in state schools and are already subsidised by the state.
We want to see the withdrawal of charitable status, public subsidies and tax privileges currently enjoyed by these institutions, including business rate exemptions. Integration will cost money, though easily recouped with more progressive taxation. Even so, it will be money well spent if the end goal is equality. Integration will see an end to the stranglehold that a minority in society hold over our national institutions. Our national establishment of politics, law and media should be as representative as the populace it claims to serve.
Robert Poole is a campaigner for Labour Against Private Education, NEU Member and secondary school geography teacher.