Parents – we’re such hypocrites. On the one hand we quickly
become expert at parroting consolatory mantras such as “Every child develops at
its own pace!” and “they’ll all make it in the end!” when it comes to crawling,
walking, talking, reading, speaking a foreign language and no doubt also
getting a job. At the same time we’re thinking, thank god my little
Persephone/Tobias caught on quicker than that! No doubt thanks to all the
encouragement he/she received in my determination that she/he would “be ready
all by him/herself” at the earliest possible moment . . . . That crestfallen
look on a too-curious mother’s face when she witnesses your child’s latest
star-turn, which, despite her relative discretion, you detect instantly,
because you have been there so often yourself. Under cover of solidarity, we
mothers are constantly comparing and contrasting. Our ability to disguise it is
the only variable here; some mums are so obvious it’s embarrassing. The rest of
us hone our sophistication from our early recognition, in those first
post-partum weeks, that the highs and lows competitive parenting are set to be
a big part of the rest of our lives. In public, at least, we’ll need to get a
We’re also hypocrites about education. I’ve always had mixed
feelings about Katharine Birbalsingh, the London comprehensive school teacher
and best-selling blogger who became a star turn as a charismatic free-school
advocate at last year’s Tory Party Conference. I find Melissa Benn’s lament for the demise of genuine comprehensive education irresistible, and who can deny that specialist
academies and free-schools deprive the remaining local comprehensives of both
state funds and the most gifted pupils, compounding the divisiveness,
especially in London, of the private/state divide? And yet – when I discovered Ms Birbalsingh s plan to open a “competitive, academic, non-denominational free school” in my area I was instantly delighted. Yes, a local option for my son that, when the time comes, just might tick all his boxes.
It turns out it may not happen. The council has apparently
sold the building the school had its eye on to a developer. Ms Birbalsingh suspects
deliberate sabotage. Who knows? The time I heard the council’s schools
representative, Cllr Peter Robbins, speak at a local parents’ meeting, I found him quite impressive under pressure. I agree from the heart with Melissa Benn, Fiona Millar et al.
that parents want good local schools, not a confusing and illusory “choice”.
Other north Europeans take this for granted. I wish fervently I could raise my
child in a country where the children of lawyers and professors sat in the
classroom next to the children of first-generation immigrant cleaners and bus-drivers
as a matter of course – but this is so far from being the case anywhere in this
country that most British parents have no notion that it is possible.
Given that neither Melissa nor I can change the world, and
my son will need a state secondary school, I’m going to need options. Birbalsingh’s
school might in practice have solved my dilemma. But I’m not such a hypocrite
as to believe that my personal solution is necessarily a solution for local
schools as a whole. The situation is a mess, and likely to get messier.
Melissa Benn: School Wars; the battle for Britain’s education : http://www.amazon.co.uk/School-Wars-Battle-Britains-Education/dp/1844677362