Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I was disappointed to hear Andy Burnham on Marr last Sunday declare his opposition to free schools. He put plenty of distance between himself and Ed Miliband, even admitting Labour spent too much in the run-up to the recession, which is quite something given that he was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time. But Miliband was spot on, apparently, when it came to free schools. He then reeled off all the usual guff about 'experimenting with children's education', 'surplus places', 'unqualified teachers', etc.

It's tempting to take Burnham to task over this, since he's the favourite to become the next Labour leader. What could be clearer evidence that he's in the pocket of Len McCluskey than siding with the teaching unions? But I'm going to rise above it. Burnham is like one of those Japanese soldiers who emerges from the Burmese jungle, bayonet at the ready, after the war has ended. Newsflash Andy: your side lost. David Cameron has pledged to open 500 new free schools. If you add those to the 250 or so that have opened already, that brings the total to 750. Like it or not, free schools are now a permanent feature of England's educational landscape. If and when Labour ever gets back in, they won't be able to do anything about them.

It doesn't come naturally to me to be magnanimous in victory, particularly when I think about the misery Labour would have inflicted on the parents and teachers who've devoted their lives to setting up new schools over the past five years. But magnanimous our side must be. To quote my father, the author of Labour's 1945 manifesto, we've won the war and now we must win the peace. We need to disabuse our opponents of the notion that we are softening up England's public education system so it can be sold off to billionaire robber barons, and persuade them that we are in the same business as them, namely, creating good local schools so all children can realise their potential, particularly the least well-off.

A good opening salvo in this campaign has been fired by Robert Peal, head of history at the West London Free School. He's just edited a collection of essays for John Catt called Changing Schools: Perspectives on Five Years of Education Reform . It includes contributions from some of the most important voices in the reform movement, including James O'Shaugh-nessy, Katharine Birbalsingh, Daisy Christodoulou, Andrew Old, Jonathan Simons and Tom Bennett. …

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