Fraser Nelson

Cameron’s refreshing honesty on schools

Cameron's refreshing honesty on schools
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David Cameron has today told the News of the World that he is "terrified" about the prospect of sending his children to an inner-London state school. This is quite some statement, given how many tens of thousands of parents are in the same predicament. Isn't it the classic politician's error? To betray how his aloofness from voters by showing how he fears what ordinary parents have to put up with? That's what Tony Blair thought – so he'd pretend to be happy with state schools while sending his kids to the ultra-selective Oratory School. That is hypocrisy.

What David Cameron has said represents honesty. After all, why shouldn't he be terrified? As I say in my News of the World column today, the record is appalling. In inner city boroughs, just 41 per cent of boys achieved five A*-C GCSEs last year – markedly worse than the 48 per cent nationally. What parent would not be deeply uneasy about these statistics? Of course, there are several middle class ways to avoid this - as Blair did.

You can bet that, today, the pews of chuches across London will be filled with atheist mothers clutching their soon-to-be-school age children. Some advert for the welfare state: now, as in medieval times, churches are using education as a loss leader to lure parents into their sanctums. Another middle class cheat is to move into a good catchment area by paying a huge premium on your house. To do this, and then preach about how state education is fine, is the height of hypocrisy. In no other area of life (other than protection from crime) does the money spent on behalf of the poor buy them so much worse a service as the money spent on behalf of the rich. The solution to this is the voucher system.

This is the final where David Cameron can be commended. He is not pretending to love a system that so demonstrably fails so many of children. He's not taking the Blair Oratory route. Or the Dianne Abbot say-everything's-fine-until-your-own-kid-hits-secondary-age-then-go-private route. Labour politicians were, alas, ideologically unable to admit the extent of the failings of schools run by politicians. Millions of kids from deprived backgrounds have suffered as a result of the see-no-evil policy. By contrast, Cameron is speaking from the heart, and doing something about it. Introducing the voucher system, via the Swedish schools model.

Cameron's eldest, Nancy, is six years old. She'll hit secondary age in 2016 – which, if Cameron has his way, will be the second term of his government. Michael Gove is on the record in The Spectator promising that every voter in Britain will, by the end of the first term of a Tory government, have a new school competing for the right to educate their child. It's ambitious, but utterly achievable if Cameron and Gove keep up their focus.

So in 2016, Cameron – and parents like him – need not be terrified. They will have a good school to which they can send their kids. The competition, or even the threat of it, will force other local authority-run schools to raise their game (as it did in Sweden). And the problem will be ameliorated. The scandal of sink schools will be on the way to eradication.

All told, Cameron's blast of honesty is as welcome as his determination to fix the problem – precisely the remedy to 13 years of Labour politicians pretending there isn't anything wrong. For the parents in council schemes, genuinely terrified of what will happen when they send their kids to the local sink school, it does not come a minute too soon.