Fraser Nelson

Which side are you on? | 26 October 2010

Which side are you on? | 26 October 2010
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At last, The Guardian is reporting the grassroots rebellion in education. It has picked up on the story of Fiona Murphy who blogged on Coffee House yesterday about her trouble with the Tory-run council in Bromley. But hang on... the "grassroots revolt" of which the Guardian speaks is the councils, trying to protect their monopoly control over state schools. Here is the extract:

"A flagship government policy has provoked a grassroots revolt against the coalition, with senior Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors lining up to attack the introduction of free schools, one of education secretary Michael Gove's most cherished projects...Coalition councillors are fighting the education secretary's plans, claiming that they threaten to wreck social harmony by creating ethnic or religious enclaves and will disrupt efforts to improve the lives of all children."

Only The Guardian could see the protests of local authority bureaucrats as being a "grassroots rebellion". It is like a parody of some statist newspaper, that only recognises various levels of government. But the report, I think, does injustice to the newspaper for the following reasons.

The Guardian, as a newspaper, is not tribal leftie - or partisan to Labour. I'd describe it as intelligent progressive. Sure, it hires columnists who aren't - but the paper's editorial line is normally pretty defensible. Even it must be appalled at the link in England's state school system between the kid's level of deprivation and their GCSE result. Its own staff will know the ways the middle class game the system: moving to an upmarket area, wangling your way into a religious school or just going private. It will also know that the pupil achievement gap between private and public in Britain is the biggest in the world, save for Mexico. It will be appalled.

So what to do? Method One is to shrug, talk about ingrained deprivation, blame the parents and say - in a polite way - that there's no hope for the chavs. Deep rooted social problems, etc. Method two is to look at the below table, which I make no apology for printing again:

Harris is just one chain of schools that makes rapid turnaround. There are others (like ARK). Look at the Harris results: they destroy that dangerous lie that there's nothing can be done about sink schools.

City Academies, a Labour policy, are proving to be perhaps the most rapidly-vindicated social policy in recent European politics. Just because the Labour leadership isn't proud of this, it doesn't mean that the Guardian - the flag bearer of the thinking left - should not celebrate this Labour triumph and say: more, please. And if small-minded local authorities stand athwart new Academies, wanting to retain their power and monopoly control, then who should the Guardian support? The pupil, or the official?

As Billy Bragg once asked: which side are you on? There is only so much evidence that The Guardian can ignore. Academies are an incredibly successful Labour policy that bring real help, quickly, to kids in deprived neighbourhoods. And if the councils don't like it: tough.

In Sweden, the social democrats support (profit-making) free schools because they believe the job of the left is to side with the small guy, against the powerful. Does the British left really stand with the unionised provider of public services?

A battle is now on in English education. It's surely time to side with these parents and kids who want better schools - someone has to. For a progressive newspaper, there can be only one side to back.