Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Put Aside Politics and Open the Schools We Need

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Put Aside Politics and Open the Schools We Need

Article excerpt

Byline: Boris Johnson

ICANNOT conceal it from you that I went to the same school as the party leader. It is one of those things that make people think this country is a gigantic conspiracy.

We both went to the same venerable redbrick seat of learning where the children of the bourgeoisie acquire their irritating good manners and contacts that will last them for life. Yes, folks, I went to the same excellent London primary school as Labour leader Ed Miliband -- and I loved the place.

I remember the knee-scabbing playground, the balls of mashed potato (no packed lunches in those days), the light from those majestic cathedral-like windows and the assembly room-cumgymnasium, with the beautiful wooden bars worn smooth by generations of Camden kids. You know the type of building I mean. London is still landmarked with them -- products of the Victorian surge of energy and confidence that gave us the sewers and the Tube tunnels on which -- incredibly -- we still rely.

Our ancestors were responding to the sudden challenge of a population explosion and the legal necessity to provide free education for every child. Between 1870 and 1902 they built 400 of these handsome Flemish-gabled structures, with their separate entrances for Boys and Girls, and it is a tribute to their foresight and craftsmanship that they are still in use today; and today, of course, they are nothing like enough.

We need to find that identical Victorian gusto and ambition, and to meet a demographic challenge that is every bit as extraordinary. London is booming -- with a population that has risen by 600,000 since I became Mayor -- and that amazing statistic is not principally a function of immigration, as it happens, but of the simple rate of live births against deaths. Londoners are living longer, and producing more children, and we will need an extra 118,000 school places by 2016. In Croydon alone it is estimated that we will need 5,956 additional primary school places by 2015 and 8,652 by 2016.

We cannot have these children taught in sheds. We need funding for these schools, and together with leaders of London councils we have made representations to the Department of Education. We have had some success. We were awarded an extra [pounds sterling]300 million, to reflect the magnitude of what is happening in London; and the Government recently announced a [pounds sterling]982 million "targeted basic need" programme to help boroughs set up new schools in areas where they are needed most. That programme is specifically aimed at producing Free Schools -- and in my view that is emphatically a good thing.

All schools vary in quality, and some Free Schools will be better than others. But I have seen with my own eyes how groups of parents and others are now setting up schools that have a universal admissions policy -- but a distinctive ethos of achievement and ambition. …

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