Stand Up for Pushy Parents; as the Government Publishes Its Education Bill This Week, One London Parent Who Has Battled to Find a Decent Secondary School for Her Child Says Anything Has to Be Better Than the Present System

Article excerpt


TWO events coincide this week. The results of the school-place allocations in the state sector are due to land on our doormats on Friday, telling us how many have won a place at our schools of first choice. That heralds celebrations for some, tears and panic among some parents relegated to failing schools.

With eerie timing, the Government is also publishing its controversial education Bill. The fierce opposition to this White Paper puzzles me. Giving children a ticket out of poverty through a fair education system is an aim I support. But the Left's opposition to Blair's changes seems to relate to schools on a different planet.

I write as a member of the muchderided Pushy Middle Class who has been engaged in the great hunt for a place at a good London state secondary school for my child. This challenge requires the investigative skills and the cross-examination methods of a sleuth. So the parents of London 10-year-olds have discovered in the past few months as they have trekked around possible schools, puzzled over the intricacies of catchment areas, faith requirements, scholarship standards and transport times.

My low point was at the eighth school I'd toured, a girls'-only comprehensive, when I opened a door into the junior toilets to find prominent graffiti announcing: "I'm only 11 years old - but I give head." So, apparently, if the grafitti was to be believed, did several teachers.

Back in the school hall we parents, who had been on small group tours led by senior pupils, exchanged muttered reports. "I asked our guide about drugs," hissed one mother. "She said she doesn't know of any in the school but someone's been trying to sell them outside the gates."

This, I should stress, was a comprehensive with bog-standard examination results. But such is the shortage of good London schools that bog-standard is the new desirable. Parents move house to hit its one-and-ahalfmile catchment area.

Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT, has called us the "pushy middle classes" who, he fears, will exploit Blair's proposed independent specialist schools at the expense of poorer children. The middle class is the last category against which prejudice is cool. Maybe we London parents could march with banners: "Proud to be PMC".

There was the mother who had gone to the police to get an off-the-record list of local schools with the fewest knife incidents. Pushy, huh? She lived on a housing estate, and she wanted a safe, secure school for her child.

Whatever class, the worries of parents who care about their children are the same.

KNIVES, drugs and disruption are our biggest fears, not that our cosseted chicks might have to associate with the poor. Almost half of London's schools have had to deal with pupils with knives and other weapons in the past year, according to research published this month by Warwick University. Even more disturbing is the fact that fewer than two out of five schools routinely inform police.

How can parents, from whatever class, evaluate the risks or judge the discipline?

We PMCs want schools to be safe, above all. And have calm classrooms where our children will be stretched to achieve somewhere near their potential. …