It’s been a bad week for public schools. First, Michael Gove told the FT’s George Parker that it was “ridiculous” that four members of David Cameron’s inner circle went to Eton, while more than half of the Cabinet are privately educated. “I don’t know where you can find a similar situation in any other developed country.”
Gove, says Parker, is “burning with indignation” that money can still buy the education that opens doors to top jobs, while the state school system allows talent to go to waste. The adopted son of an Aberdeen fishmonger, he is on a “mission” to change this. And while Cameron says his role model is the patrician Harold Macmillan, Gove’s office is lined with very different political heroes.
Beside Theodore Roosevelt, Barack Obama and Margaret Thatcher is Lenin – who Gove claims invented the phrase “education, education, education” – and portraits of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. “I see education in the UK as a civil rights struggle,” says Gove.
A second attack on public schools came from a less surprising quarter: the literary critic John Carey. Carey has always been obsessively class conscious. Like Gove, he is appalled that modern British society, especially Oxbridge, remains so dominated by the privately educated. “The blame,” he writes in his new memoirs, “lies with those who destroyed the grammar schools.
Selecting for merit, not money, the grammar schools, had they survived, would by now have all but eliminated the public contingent in Oxford and Cambridge.”
Carey’s book, says Robert Harris in The Sunday Times, is a prolonged lament at the passing of the grammar school: his own “wonderful” alma mater with its blue blazers and caps, was, writes Carey, “swept away in the general vindictive extermination of grammar schools in the 1970s” – an “educational idiocy” for which he blames the Labour minister Tony Crosland, “a public-school educated savant”, abetted by the likes of the philosopher AJ Ayer, who supported abolition “while sending his own son to Eton”.
Gove and Carey are contradictory figures in that both get on perfectly well with public-school types. Carey, indeed, has spent his entire career as a professor at Oxford where, as Harris points out, Old Etonians are thicker on the ground than anywhere else in the country. Perhaps it’s time the two made common cause in their desire to shake up schools.
At least, one thing’s changed, if we believe the third figure to enter the fray this week, the novelist Martin Amis. “When I was [a teenager] there was a vast gulf [between state and private],” he says. “It was a class gulf.
But now I think it’s no longer a reflection of class, it’s a reflection of money. Money has won. It had always won in America, but [now] it’s won in England, too. So if you put your son’s name down for Eton it’s not because it’s any class-granted right.” Is this a good thing? Not necessarily. “I have no nostalgia for the class society, but no very great enthusiasm about the money society.”
Tabloid money: now MPs are milking taxpayers on their tea break
• The BBC’s flagship news programme, Newsnight, “must be jubilant” at all the publicity surrounding its appointment of Hattie Harman’s former adviser, and former economist with the TUC, Duncan Weldon, as its new economics editor, says Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun.
“The programme is now infested at every level with Labour supporters, from ex-Guardian executive Ian Katz down. But Weldon’s predecessor, Paul Mason, was an unashamed leftie who refused to cross picket lines. And doesn’t Jeremy Paxman sometimes betray an anti-Tory cynicism? More to the point, who cares? And who watches this late-night dud, anyway?”
• “If, like me, you had an (increased) council tax bill drop this week,” says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror, “you’ll be furious to learn some of your hard-earned cash may be spent covering the cost of an all-expenses paid jolly to Cannes, where 68 British councils sent 235 executives to attend a property conference. As one worker said: ‘It beats working’. Sure does, matey – especially as much of the business was done on yachts and in five-star hotels where a G and T costs £25.… At a time when councils are cutting essential services and bleating they can’t afford to empty our bins or fill in potholes, why the hell are they wasting our money sending people to a millionaire’s playground for some pointless conference?”
• “Newly released expenses data have shown that certain MPs are even getting the milk for their tea paid by taxpayers,” says Jane Moore in The Sun. “Ye gods. Isn’t it odd how they blithely waste our millions on various useless quangos and giving world aid to countries with space programmes, yet when it comes to their own expenditure they prove to be very penny-pinching indeed. It has also been reported that MPs might be given an extra week off because there is so little for them to do. Why not make it 365 days? I doubt anyone would notice.”