Lambeth Labour against diversity, educational success

The London Borough of Lambeth, Mother Ship for municipal loony tunes, serves to remind us of the left’s malign and philistine core

Against cuts, against success. Lambeth. Go figure
Andrew Gibson
On 3 March 2014 10:39

Labour’s left-wing hates Free Schools not because they fear the schools might fail but because they fear the schools will succeed.

Labour frontbenchers like Tristram Hunt have to balance the wishes of parents for choice and high-quality schools against the prejudices of the 1970s left. Hence Hunt’s contortions.   

In this regard, the London Borough of Lambeth, Mother Ship for municipal loony tunes, serves to remind us of the left’s malign and philistine core.

Currently in Brixton, a group of parents are seeking to establish a Free School – Trinity Academy – with a Roman Catholic ethos. They are serious people, non-party political, and I anticipate that they will get their school and it will prosper.

They are a credit to Lambeth and to south London. The school will bring investment, jobs, and a high-quality education open to families of all denominations and none, and it will produce responsible young citizens.

Naturally, the Lambeth left are furious.

Labour-controlled Lambeth Council makes much of the fact that it is a ground-breaking “co-operative council”. In theory, Labour allows local residents to shape and run local services.

In reality, Lambeth Labour are as likely to give away power as John Prescott is to give away his last slice of pie. The Labour left can’t stand free schools because the schools involve true devolution and embody a worldview that does not hold that the state always knows best.  

When educationalist Katharine Birbalsingh sought to open a Free School in the north of the borough the left attacked the detail: “it’s in the wrong place”, “it’s for the wrong age group”, “the site is not secure”: yada, yada. 

The Labour critics never sought to resolve any problems, they only sought to raise them. And so in Brixton, here we go again.

Lambeth Council leader Lib Peck wrote to the school “seeking assurances” (get her!) that only qualified teachers ought to be employed at Trinity. This is the same “attack the detail” tactic used by Labour MPs.

Labour education spokesman Tristram Hunt bemoans the fact that a shift manager at McDonald’s is now required to have more qualifications than a (free school) teacher. Well, yes.

And it is also true that a shift manager at McDonald’s is required to have more qualifications than are demanded of a Labour MP.

Hunt doesn’t apply his credentialism fetish to his colleagues, which is just as well as he would lose half the front bench.

Surely, a mother of four with a degree in English Literature and a love of her subject, wanting to return to work after her kids reached their teens, could be viewed as perhaps a better teacher candidate than someone just out of teacher training with no work or life experience and no degree in the subject he was about to teach?

I am not saying that that is definitely the case: merely that it is a reasonable view to hold. We all want “well qualified teachers”. There is not a parent in the world who would dispute that.

But what the left can’t understand is that there might be differing views as to what constitutes “well qualified”, and the power to decide shouldn’t always reside with the politicians.

For the left, a decision is only valid if it is sanctified by the majority. To them, dissent and diversity be damned. They can’t grasp the concept of a politics-free, civic sphere.

As it happens, the Trinity Academy has said, “Because of our focus on academic excellence, we’d generally expect our teachers to be even better qualified than teachers in other Lambeth schools and to have qualified teacher status… We’re confident we are attracting the cream of teaching talent.”

Oh dear: now what detail will Labour attack?

And by the way, it is not as if Lambeth Labour councillors are against private, fee-paying schools. Oh good heavens no! We know that at least some of them have a soft spot for fee-paying schools because that is where they send their own children.

No, what apparently gets their goat is that hoi polloi should have the same opportunities as the political elite, and they – the poor – should receive those life chances via the taxpayer-funded system.

Left-wing blowhard Councillor Ed Davie said: “Trinity is not needed or wanted by the council, the Catholic diocese or existing local schools…”

No mention of parents. Just savour that “not needed”. Classic leftism.

We can’t have the working classes worrying their pretty little heads about options and choices. They might make the wrong choice!

Imagine if we banned grocery shops from opening if an area already had one grocery shop. “We don’t need a Waitrose; we’ve got a Co-op!” (Or indeed vice versa.)

 How would you compare prices, drive up standards, and keep the sole store on its toes generally?

The message from the self-proclaimed “co-operative council” to the residents is clear: You can have any colour you want as long as it is red. Take it or leave it: the motto of the Labour left through the ages.

Labour hate competition and choice because they don’t understand it. They think it is “cut-throat” and a “race to the bottom”. They don’t acknowledge the roles of experimentation, organic growth, and the fact that people can properly define “success” in a variety of ways. They are blind to competition on the basis of quality in all its diverse forms.

Here is the good news. The Trinity Academy does not need the blessing of Lambeth Council any more than it needs the sanction of Tristram Hunt. And many of the parents and educationalists involved in Free Schools generally are Labour voters.

Free schools that put forward a good bid will get the go-ahead, and once parents have experienced choice and seen a good education service in action they will not give it up lightly.

The Labour left will carp, but they can’t turn back the clock to the monochrome days of Clement Atlee (Haileybury College, and University College, Oxford) or a Golden Age that never was.

Andrew Gibson is an occasional contributor to The Commentator

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