This made me cross;
Talk to insiders in the so-called “new Labour project” and you realise the importance to the whole strategy of getting the middle-classes to use the public services. As one former Downing Street adviser put it: “we have to persuade the critical mass of people to switch from private to public services”. Otherwise, he argued, they demand tax cuts rather than supporting public sector investment.
Perhaps I’m displaying my socialist roots, and although I don’t often find myself agreeing with Brian Simon, I can’t help thinking that if the post war labour government had banned private education provision in ’45 the middle classes would have to use and invest in the state education system. That might mean we could have education policies directed at helping people teach and learn, rather than based on some PR policy.
There might be an interesting far-right far-left confluence here (not quite the big tent tony had in mind). A press release by the Institute of Economic Affairs from December 2003 tells us the comprehensive is failing those most in need, and it’s the middle classes who benefit most from the system. I think I might agree (though I don’t agree with their prescription for change).
Do the middle classes therefore need more incentives to use a system that already disproportionately benefits them? Why not end charitable status for private education? More money for state education would be raised and the private school system would be betrayed for what it is, a place where one tries to purchase social advantage for one’s children, not a spurious charity. We already have strong evidence that sending your children is not really about attainment or encouraging educational success; because it seems that state education (amongst other things) outputs citizens who, if they go to university, do better than their privately educated peers. It’s about buying status.