The first impulse for Melanie Phillips’ long journey to the very very right came from her experiences as one of the Guardian’s education writers, where the gap between propaganda and reality was just unbearable. Today’s paper shows what she was up against. There is a story from Polly Curtis about a former Admiral pointing out that sink schools are a complete disaster in which even clever children will learn nothing because they are run by thuggish older ones whom the teachers are unable to discipline. This isn’t even controversial. (Today’s Daily Mail, for example, carries a report of a fifteen-year-old girl raped in school apparently by two boys apparently fourteen and fifteen). So what is the official response to Mr Parry?
He said children might flourish if they are taken out of their state school and put in a private school, but they would fail again “if they go back to anarchy and chaos” of a troubled home.
In an apparent admission that private schools may have an effect on the state sector, Parry said: “The minute you take what you and I would call middle class bourgeois elements out of that social context … you have [a] disadvantaged, deprived underprivileged critical mass, these schools are fighting a losing battle.”
John Bangs, head of education at the National Union of Teachers, denounced Parry’s words. “It’s that kind of ill-informed, snobbish idea of state schools which opens up the divide between the sectors that I don’t think most private school heads would support,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was “a deeply misguided picture, frankly insulting to the hard-working and talented teachers and pupils in the state sector”.
It is absolutely clear from his remarks that he was talking about a minority of state schools and not about the sector as a whole. What he said was daily currency where Guardian writers discuss the education of their own children: anyone who lives in London asks of a state school whether it has enough middle class parents to make it worthwhile, and if it doesn’t, they try to avoid it. Yet the reaction of the ministry and of the biggest teachers union is simply denial and misrepresentation.
This isn’t just a story about one eccentric journalist. It also explains why there are creationists teaching in British schools today: because Tony Blair and his advisers looked at the educational establishment and decided that it was so wedded to failure that only schools where the union and the local authority had no power could hope to educate children in poorer areas. Hence the Academies, run by philanthropic businessmen, and—since some rich philanthropists are also fundamentalist Christians—the fact that some Academies are run by creationists. And, yes, of course I would rather my own children were educated by decent creationist loonies than in schools run by adolescent gangs.
But the theology of the academies was entirely irrelevant to the decision makers. Religion got its chance because the secular state failed and lied about its failure. It really isn’t a story about superstition versus rationalism.