The Spectator

Nationalising children

Are the government funding a bourgeois guilt complex?

When Ruth Kelly became Education Secretary last December, one of her female colleagues, angry at having been passed over for promotion, denounced her as a ‘cow’ who insisted on skipping Commons debates in order to spend time with her young children. In fact, in her dedication to family life, Ms Kelly seemed a refreshing change from the archetypal Blair Babe who views motherhood as a kind of lazy option for those women who lack the talent to run a small government department.

But perhaps the strain of rushing home every evening to read Topsy and Tim is proving too much. This week Ruth Kelly announced that she wishes schools to extend their opening hours from six and a half hours a day to ten or eleven. Just one thing is certain about this proposal: it isn’t being done in the children’s interest. You can almost hear the cries of relief uttered by the working mums of school-age children. No longer will they have to show clients the door at quarter past three. No more will they have to excuse themselves from strategy meetings in order to cook frozen pizza fingers. Instead the brats can be dropped off at school before breakfast, and won’t have to be collected until half past six, by which time they will have been fed, entertained and be ready for bed. The only shame is that Ms Kelly has not so far indicated that the state education system will also be taking on board the responsibility for bathing the nation’s children and reading them a bedtime story.

In one sense it might seem odd for conservatives to raise objections to extended school opening hours. Private boarding schools — Ruth Kelly’s alma mater, Millfield, among them — are, of course, open 24 hours a day, and few accuse them of putting parents’ interests above those of pupils.

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