The Iain Dale interview with Ken Livingstone was generally unremarkable. Apart from Ken coming over as a very human soul, he didn’t give us much more than we already knew. Ken, the old trouper, knows just how much knicker to flash to keep the audience intrigued.
Two things did pop out:
- Ken is unshakable in his conviction that he is Mister London; and will therefore stand again. If he fails to secure the Labour nomination (and it will need a very big character to elbow him aside), he has the unspoken option to do what he did in 2000 and go independent. Assuming that Labour put up more than a straw-man (and there may be quite a few of them unemployed by 2012), that will split the left-of-centre vote, which in turn may be Blasted Boris’s best chance.
- And then there’s this:
KL: I am not in favour of any parental choice in education. You will go to your local school.
ID: That’s a pretty bald statement. You’ve got young kids…
KL: They go to the local school and they will go to the local secondary school.
ID: Even if it’s a terrible school and you know it’s a terrible school? Surely a parent’s duty is to get the best education possible for their kids?
KL: Tom’s in his first year at school. In his class there are only three kids who were born in this country, and one of them is called Mohammed. He’s doing fine because he has parents who read to him and he lives in a house full of books. A school can screw up kids if it’s got a bad head who has lost interest and loses control. The home environment is far more likely to screw up kids. The illusion of educational choice has been a disaster for most kids and most parents.
There’s the red rag to the Tory bull-shitters.
Once we overcome our conniptions that anyone can challenge the shibboleth of “choice”, there is a lot of sense in Linvinstone’s argument.
“Choice” is a by-product of economic surplus. For those trapped in the underclass, there can be no choice. In education, “choice” is bought either
- in the private sector, where education is over-priced, over-hyped and under-performing, except for buying access to higher education; or
- as an essential “feature” in house-purchase.
Malcolm now reflects on the angst of his neighbours, who sweat blood over the pecking-order of north London schools. In truth, as Ken rightly suggests, the “choice” is largely out of their hands: the determining factors are location, aptitude and — above all — the selection criteria applied by the individual schools. That all means that his Yorkshire grandchildren may not be able to access the secondary school the other side of their garden fence.
Malcolm compares that with his observation of the schooling “enjoyed” by his grandchildren in the great State of New Jersey. The progress from first school (collected by bus each morning and delivered to the next township) to elementary school (just around the corner) to high school (the other side of the railway line) is automatic. There is no alternative except private education.
The difference is that, in the New Jersey situation, pushy parents ensure that school standards are maintained and improved for the one-and-only school available to them and their children. And that benefits all in the school community.
In the north London context, the dynamic is different. Once enrolled in that “good” school the pressure is off. Provided the student has application and aptitude, he or she is now on the production line to the next stage. The main sweat is over. What is not to be admitted openly is that it is now in the interests of the parents and the students that other schools are seen to be inferior: thereby nobbling the competition at the next stage.
As an experiment (and it is one Malcolm has himself done), try asking a group of students, at almost any age, to propose a pecking-order of the local schools. Not only will they do it, they will achieve a general unanimity on the final ranking. Without exception, that ranking will match the school’s position in the local league-table.
What’s wrong with that?
Well, self-esteem and expectations for a start.