Coffee House

Take note, Fiona Millar – you can’t close the class divide by closing private schools

30 January 2014

11:19 AM

30 January 2014

11:19 AM

If there was a coalition to keep the poor down in Britain, Fiona Millar would be its chairman. If a wicked emperor were to seize Britain and want to make sure the rich held all the best jobs, he’d set up a system where there was a direct link between wealth and quality of education. He’d smile with evil content at what Chris Cook has revealed as the ‘graph of doom’ which shows such a relationship in British state schools.


So we have designed a system of near-perfect unfairness. And yet, the people who are supposedly against inequality ignore this problem completely – and instead focus their ire on those reforming these state schools.

For reasons that I have never been able to work out, Fiona Millar has become the queen of the status quo in British state education – that is to say, a system which makes sure the poorest kids get the worse schools. She was on the radio today again, making out that Britain’s problem is that our private schools are the best in the world. She said how well Finland did to ‘get rid of their private schools’ (that’s untrue) and reluctantly conceded it would be tough to abolish them in Britain. But she had nothing to say about the state system.


Britain runs an appalling, almost sadistic system where the richest (those who live in the leafiest areas) get the best state education, and those in sink estates get sink schools. You’d think  the left would be angry about this, but many of the articulate campaigners (like Millar) are blinded to this by their ideology. So rather than worry about how to raise standards at the bottom, they want to attack the top.

The funding gap, she told Radio 4’s Today programme, is massive: £6,000 for state school and £15,000 for private. Again, if she was focused on the problem facing ordinary working class children she may note that the state system funding per child can vary from £3,000 to £18,000. But as Department for Education research has shown that there is (in the words of the report’s author, Deloitte) ‘no correlation at all between the level of per pupil funding and educational outcomes’. And here’s the graph that proves it:-

Funding and results

We learned, during that Radio 4 interview, Millar that has apparently written to newspaper editors ask if their kids go to private school. Had she included me in her little inquisition, I’d be able to say that my boys are state-educated. But only in her strange black-and-white world view does that put me on the side of the working man. I’m lucky enough to have been able to afford a house in a part of London where the state schools are excellent. (And make no mistake: Britain’s best state schools are as good, if not better, than private ones.)

I’ve never understood why so many on the left congratulate themselves for sending their kids to a state school, when they have played the system to make damn sure they got into one of the best state schools. And they were able to game the system because had money, connections or both. Is that really so better, or more ‘progressive’, than saving money and going without holidays (as Michael Gove’s parents did) in order send your kids to private schools?

The New Statesman has an excellent theme for its cover this week: the 7 per cent problem. Why are private school alumni at the top? The answer, as we all know, is that the yawning attainment gap between state and private. In an economy where what you learn dictates what your earn, this means a new class divide is being introduced. And it’s the Conservatives who want to close that gap; it’s Labour who want to ignore it. Something to bear in mind at election time.

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Show comments
  • Alan Read-Lewis

    Can’t work out…? Its easy!

    The Left have been against every suggestion for improving education for the past 50 years. Why?

    Keep them stupid and unthinking. If we educate them they might realise, and vote for someone else.

    That’s also why Labour is in favour of mass unskilled immigration. More voters. Never mind that the jobs of UK workers are threatened, or that increased demand will mean their kids can’t get a house. Their votes are already in the bag. So stuff ’em.

    Educate them? That’s the last thing the highly-educated Fiona Millar wants.

  • misomiso

    Brilliant article.

    You should write a different letter, this time to leafing columnists and Labour MPs, and ask them where they send their children to state school, and whether they go to theses new new ‘super comps’.
    As well as Harriet Harman, Diane Abbot etc, why not hold up Tristram Hunt and Ed miliband as examples of hypocracy? They live in some the most expensive areas of London, well out of the reach of average people, and they’re children will get and excellent education, boosted by private tutors no doubt.

    Grammar schools round the UK would even out educational chances and not make the country so London focused.

    But ultimately the sooner we change to a voucher system and give parents direct control over their children’s future the better.

  • grammarschoolman

    Some people Fiona Millar could write to: Alan Rusbridger, Polly Toynbee, Jackie Ashley, Diane Abbott. Some people she doesn’t need to write to: David Cameron, Michael Gove.

  • David Booth.

    Perhaps Fiona Millar should look into the illegal wars conducted by the last Labour Government, which have cost hundreds of thousands of lives?

  • Liberty

    The correlation between wealth and exam results and poverty is easy to explain. On average, able people earn more. They pass on their higher abilty via their genes and choose the schools, home environment, etc. of their children and so pass on their superior exam passing capability. This has always been so and in a meritocracy will always be so.

    What we can and should do is abolish catchmenty areas so that able but poor people [there are many exceptions to the process outlined above] and their parents can have a better choice of schools, better choice of friendships, etc.

  • Paul

    “And it’s the Conservatives who want to close that gap; it’s Labour who want to ignore it. Something to bear in mind at election time.”
    The trouble is that the Left seems nicer to non-politically minded people, creators of the NHS, the Welfare State and concern about poor people. Attention isn’t paid to the Left’s urge to drag down the best schools rather than pull up the flagging ones, the urge to get through billions of pounds in public spending regardless of success or the sinister way the last Labour shower character-assassinated anyone who disagreed with their policies.

  • Think_Positive

    The FN Article is Complete Nonsense of Course:


    All teachers must have a master’s degree before they start teaching.

    Compulsory schooling starts at seven with voluntary play-based kindergarten
    for younger children.

    No national testing, inspections or school league tables. The government
    looks at an 8 to 10 per cent sample of pupils’ work to check on performance.

    Pupils transfer to either an academic or a vocational school at the age of
    16 after nine years of compulsory schooling.

    No university fees for home or EU students. Pilot of fees for overseas
    students from outside the EU.


    Teaching is an all-graduate profession but there are moves to allow free
    schools to employ unqualified teachers.

    Compulsory schooling starts at five.

    National tests for 11-year-olds with school league tables based on the

    Secondary-school league tables are based on GCSE and A-level results, plus
    absence rates.

    Students face fees of up to £3,000 a year in English universities – going up
    to a maximum of £9,000 in September 2012. Non-EU students can be charged
    full-cost annual fees of £28,000.

    Source Independent
    Thursday 26 May 2011

  • bugshead

    Who the f*** is Fiona Millar and why is she given air time to vent her ill informed views on education ?

    • AB

      “Mrs” Alastair Campbell…

  • Bert

    Who is she? Why does she have a platform?

    • realfish

      She sleeps with Alastair Campbell (Lord Campbell of the 45 minutes – and Labour / BBC / Guardian grid compiler)

      • Bert

        Some people will do the most revolting things to get into the media.

  • Holly

    Nice to see Fraser stating what many on here have been telling him for years.
    Pity it took so long, but hey…
    Well done.

  • Anna Baddeley

    ‘We have an appalling, almost sadistic system where the richest (those who life [sic] in the leafiest areas) get the best state education, and those in sink estates get sink schools.’

    Historically, the great thing about London was that rich and poor areas tended to be in close proximity, meaning school catchment areas potentially served a healthy balance of working-class and middle-class kids.

    The housing crisis is forcing the poor into ghettos, with their ‘own’ schools, but there are still areas where rich and poor children live side by side. Where I live in Tower Hamlets, and in other areas of recent middle-class colonisation, it’s common to have a council estate next to a street with £1m houses. Do the children in those £1m houses go to their local primary and secondary schools? No. Not judging by the number of straw boaters I see, anyway.

    The quickest way to raise standards, and boost community cohesion (an often overlooked function of education), is for all children to go to their local school. If middle-class parents want to supplement this with private tutoring, fine. The most important thing is to keep their sharp elbows inside the system.

    By the way, I went to a comprehensive and got a first from Oxford. So there.

    • HJ777

      If you have to go to your local school, then you have to accept what your local school provides, regardless of quality. You don’t even have any significant control over any aspect of what that school provides in the state sector.

      That is not the way to raise standards.

      The way to raise standards is to take schools out of state control. They could be mutuals, charities, private, whatever, but the key is to fund the pupil, not the school and to allow the market to respond to demand and provide choice. At the moment, it is really only the best off who have this choice. The trick is to extend it to everyone.

      The thing we don’t need is a ‘system’. We don’t have a state-run supermarket ‘system’ so why do we need a state-run school ‘system’?

      • James Allen

        Same with health care….

    • James Allen

      But the simple truth, Anna, is that kids in state schools overwhelmingly underperform kids in private schools. And it’s not just about cash; it’s about discipline, ambition, parental support etc. If you had local state schools that were academically selective, that might work… but I guess you’re not suggesting that are you?

      And I’m afraid London is unique in having poor tenants rub alongside rich ones. Most poor areas around the country are exclusively poor, so your “sharp elbows” wouldn’t be much in evidence in somewhere like Moss Side (and fat chance, by the way, of ever getting a hedge-fund manager in Chelsea to send her kids to a local school full of Vicky Pollards look-a-likes; she’d sooner send them to a US boarding school).

      The real question is, why do you want to deny parents the chance to get the very best education for their kids? I don’t think you’re motivated by the desire to improve standards in state schools; I think you want to deprive the rich of one of the advantages their money can bring. It’s mere envy (or “outsourced envy” for wealthy left-wingers) masquerading as “social justice”.

      But one thing I really don’t understand: Surely a graduate of Oxford university – one of the most selective institutions on Earth – knows that the best way to achieve high standards is to be selective?!!! They don’t let any old thicko into Oxford, because it would be a waste of everyone’s time and effort! Teaching kids at the appropriate speed for their abilities is the only rational way forward. Having a system of grammar schools in deprived areas and an assisted places scheme to enable the brightest poor kids to go to the best schools would be the most effective way of improving standards.

  • Makroon

    The issue is about inequality of opportunity, which is linked to the post-code lottery.
    Talking about it in terms of 19th century Marxist notions of “class divisions” is stupid, irrelevant and plays right into Labour’s hands.

  • toco10

    It was ever thus.Labour seeking to lower standards at every opportunity whereas the Conservatives ambition is to improve everyone’s position in life.Fiona Millar and her trades union friends who claim to care about education are bigots and dangereously misguided.They serve this nation very badly indeed.

  • HookesLaw

    The well heeled left are no different to you Mr Nelson. They are cosy in their protected existence.
    But its good to be remined of the totalitarian as well as the Europhile left. We must hope that more of the loonies recognise that the Carswell Tendancy is the right one.

    • sfin

      Better! More please!

  • Jay_Sands

    Has Fiona Millar been elected to something, I thought she was yet another left-leaning media pseudo-socialist luvvie.

    • AB

      She was thinking of standing for Labour at the next GE but decided she’d be better off doing her full time job as a left-leaning media pseudo-socialist luvvie.

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  • James Allen

    I fall into the Gove category (re. background), but I got there mostly thanks to the assisted places scheme. That scheme – more than grammar schools – was the quickest and easiest way of generating social mobility in this country. It was abolished by – who else – Tony Blair, that great champion of the middle classes (not).

    • HookesLaw

      You support the return of a Labour government. I despise you.

      • Colonel Mustard

        That is not really fair. In this democracy people are entitled to vote according to their personal choice. An honest vote is quite different from a tactical vote. If voters have moved away from the Tories to UKIP and as a result the Labour party wins then that is more a reflection on the Tory leadership. They need to look at why their policies are not sufficiently appealing to win a majority.

        This is broad brush stuff and Cameron has made the mistake of narrowing the focus of the party and dividing the right. To some extent he has been hampered in his options by going into coalition with a left wing party but again that was his decision.

        • Kitty MLB

          Yes it was Cameron’s choice to go in coalition,
          he could have gone with a minority government, even if it would not have lasted long, but at least he would not have
          damaged his so could party and made them a laughing stock,
          but the thing is, Cameron is a Lib Dem at heart! even if he had
          a choice of parties to go into coalition with ( we need to break up the leftie dominance of small parties) he would have still
          chosen the lib Dems. He is a coalition prime minister.

          • HJ777

            It could be argued that some of the LibDems (the Orange Book ones) are rather closer to the Tories than they are to the left of their own party. In fact, economically speaking, the Orange Book Liberals are pretty close to where Margaret Thatcher was.

            • Kitty MLB

              Indeed there are some lone voices of that calibre-
              such as Jeremy Browne- now sent off to the foreign office,
              Danny Alexander and Michael Moore ( I think the Scottish secretary)
              Yet the voices you here from the Lib Dems come from
              dinosaurs such as Cable, and the party chairman_ forgot his name, in fact they are so frightened of being seen as ‘ slightly’ to the right’ that they have become far more left wing then they have ever been.

              • HJ777

                My point is that their presence may partially, at least, explain why the Tories saw them as coalition partners they could work with.

                You forgot David Laws.

                To be fair to Cable, he did recently defend the intellectual and moral case against the minimum wage, even though he personally supports it (as, it seems, does Osborne now). You can work with people you disagree with provided they are willing to try to understand your argument rather than, as Labour does these days, try to demonise you.

                • Kitty MLB

                  Yes indeed that was why he perhaps thought he could work with them ( besides being a Liberal himself at heart)
                  I cannot see the likes of David Laws or Danny Alexander ever being able to work with Labour.
                  Clegg is also no Labour supporter, he actually loathes
                  Yet because of all their supporters leaving they returned to the tree hugging comfort zone, and proved they are not suitable for government, country before party-
                  I see your point with Cable I suppose, I just wish he would not be so obvious when he is anywhere near labour,
                  after all he is supposed to be the business secretary .

              • Alan Douglas

                I think his name is Tim Farroff. Or should be.

                Alan Douglas

            • Makroon

              Yes, but unfortunately they don’t have the courage of Margaret Thatcher. They are content to see their party turned into a Labour groupie party by Cable, Farron, Hughes, Oakeshott and the rest.

          • sfin

            Spot on observation – neither left or right but 100% patrician. I never thought, after Margaret Thatcher, that we would see a ‘tory wet’ prime minister – in the mould of Gilmour, Pym, Heseltine and Clarke. Cameron and Clegg are made for each other.

        • Paddy

          Cameron is certainly no Thatcher but we cannot risk letting the Labour rabble in again. They will “rig” the voting system to make sure they never lose again.

          They must never have a “sniff” of power again.

          • Kitty MLB

            perhaps if Cameron’s little treacherous and incompetent coalition partners did not go back on the boundary change agreement to make things more balanced then this would not be an issue.
            Cameron as already won for Labour for following the leftie failed agenda, mowing down his grass roots and allowing
            the’ junior’ partner in the coalition to much say.

            • IanM

              Kitty, the Lib Dems may not be able to prevent the biggest boundary change of all. If the tartan mafia win and Scotland leaves the Union, how many Lib/Lab electorates would that remove from Westminster? What are the chances then of a clear majority for the Tories in what remains and following that an end to gerrymander electorates.
              Although it would be a sad day if the Union fell, I’m coming to the conclusion it might be better for all concerned. My visits to Scotland have depressed me enormously of late. I can only assume that most of the true heirs of the Scottish Enlightenment left for the colonies long ago, as did my forebears. Anyone with any get-up-and-go, got up and went. Time for the strong medicine of independence and a reality check for the myth of sustainable endless welfare. South of the border you might hope for an end to mealy mouthed political coalitions and a return to a true conservative party.

        • James Allen

          I personally think the differences between Labour and Tory are immaterial compared to the scale of the challenges Britain faces. We need urgent, radical change, and only UKIP offer that.

          • sfin

            Bravo! And, reading your original post, someone of your background and education gets my vote for education secretary.

        • sfin

          Bravo Colonel! Although I disagree with your opinion on another Labour term being ‘fatal’ – disastrous? yes, fatal? no.

          What would be fatal for Britain is its mainstream politics continuing in its present form – three partys trying to occupy a mythical “centre ground”. Part of the solution to that, in my view, involves the complete destruction of the party that still calls itself ‘conservative’, but has become, post Thatcher, anything but.

          What the media likes to call “popular conservatism” exists in UKIP, it is still in its fledgling stage and currently lacks a broad range of heavyweights – like Farage. The destruction of the ‘conservatives’ will see political thinkers like Hannan and Carswell migrate to their natural home and a new Thatcherite party emerge.

          A single Labour term, under Milliband, would achieve this – and, at the end of the term, would probably involve the destruction of the Labour party too. And that’s what I would call a result!

          • Colonel Mustard

            I hope you are right but my own fear is that another Labour government, high on triumphalism and hubris, would:-

            1. Further undermine the constitution to entrench their various unfair advantages, including a massive reinforcement of Brown’s unelected ‘shadow government’ that would continue to drive ideological change and the usual cronyism in the Lords.
            2. Take victory as a signal that their stance on immigration is supported and sponsor another wave of mass immigration of third world Labour voters.
            3. Continue the contra-policy of ‘equality and fairness’ that puts agenda driven minorities in power over the majority.
            4. Push through Leveson-inspired measures to curb the press and blogosphere, especially the ability of vested interest third parties to ‘gag’ on behalf of so-called ‘victims’.
            5. Dismantle Gove’s reforms and return education to a sausage factory of aspiration-dead, benefits-dependent indoctrinated Labour voters.
            6. Strengthen the impact of EU legislation and regulation here, especially the liberty curbing types.
            7. Keep Burnham in Health and consign another generation of elderly and helpless citizens (often Tory voting) to premature deaths.
            8. Continue the politicisation of and political direction of the CPS and police so that ideological enforcement has a chilling effect on robust opposition to their policies.
            9. Resume the proliferation of bad law interfering in peoples lives and freedoms.
            10. Drag us into Syria.

            • sfin

              Wow! – if you’re not already involved in constructing strategic policy for UKIP, may I suggest you apply?

              The ‘shadow government’ has been entrenched since the 1940’s. We used to have an old councillor in our ward – lovely chap – locally famous for being a Yorkshire Dales schoolboy who made it to Oxford. He became a school teacher and big fish in local politics – for the LibDems – I had him round for dinner, about 20 years ago, and spent the evening under an ever increasing, marxist diatribe – it turned out that his tutor had been Eric Hobsbawm…

              My view, now is that it really doesn’t matter who “gets in Thatcher set out to destroy socialism – and Blair set out to destroy Thatcherism – both succeeded and we now have a mish- mash of tory wets and soft socialists – trying to please everyone and pleasing no-one.

              • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                My reaction exactly.

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              Colonel, may I take the liberty of suggesting an 11th horror to your already, frankly, terrifying list? To pursue a fiscal and monetary policy which would result in high levels of public borrowing and a consequent increase in the structural deficit. That the proceeds of said borrowing should be spent on ‘investments’ that would yield significantly less than the cost of borrowing the money in the first place. To raise taxes to the point whereby the wealthiest most mobile members of society would ‘up sticks’ and take their wealth generating capabilities and tax contributions elsewhere. Finally, to create the perfect financial storm whereby our only course of action would be to throw ourselves to the tender mercies of the IMF (again).

        • Rossspeak

          Well said Colonel M – agree with every word – tragedy is that Labour will not “win” the election – the Tories will lose it – largely because the Labour vote in the North is pretty much “tribally solid” and the Tory vote will be decimated by UKIP.

          Had Cameron kept his word ,ignored Clegg and gone for a referendum in THIS parliamentary term – he might just have shot the UKIP fox – and got back in on the basis of a (hopefully still by then) – improving economy.

          Fortune favours the brave, not the vacillating.

      • James Allen

        I take that as a compliment coming from you.

      • ButcombeMan

        This is becoming a rather worn record by now Hookey.

        I know many who have moved to UKIP, are no longer prepared to compromise by voting for the lesser of two evils, whatever their political leaning.

        Why should I vote for Cameron when I despise him, to prevent the accession of Milliband, who I also despise, (or vice versa)?

        I shall vote according to conscience and be damned for it.

        I encourage everyone else to do it too.

        • James Allen


          After all, if you followed the logic of the Tory appeasers you’d support anything the Tory party told you to support, which is patently absurd. You have to make up your own mind what you believe in, and vote on that basis, otherwise you misrepresent yourself.

        • Kitty MLB

          Well said the argument Miliband is better then Cameron
          cannot work.
          There are people who campaigned for Thatcher, including
          a Conservative PM- I think his name is Philip Davies-
          MP for Skipton, who said even in a Labour area I
          just felt in my bones that Thatcher was right.
          I cannot imagine Cameroons little band ever thinking that,
          even when they knock on Conservative doors.

      • sfin

        Your debating standards have plummeted of late.

    • Makroon

      You are obviously not as bright as you think then.

      • James Allen

        Why, you’re a charmer. Thank you.

    • Holly

      Farage will face the same miserable lefty lot that Gove is facing.

      Farage will inherit the same teachers, the same miserable, ‘keep ’em dumb’ unions, the same miserable Gove attacking, union supporting, BBC.

      How much more successful do you really believe Farage will be when faced with the absolute manic barrage the re-invigorated, union/lefty bods will thrown at him once rid of Gove.

      Is Farage going to be tough enough to stand his ground? After years in cushty la, la land, that is Europe?

      • James Allen

        My fear is not that Farage is too soft, but that he over-reaches and/or goes too far the other way. His interventions on non-EU subjects (e.g. Syrian refugees) have struck me as a little ham-fisted. And I’m not sure about a total amnesty on immigration, regardless of whether it’s justifiable or not. But, of course, on the issue of the EU he has my full support.

    • Kitty MLB

      Thatcherism did not die with Blair,
      Cameron for a while could himself the ‘heir to Thatcher’ – only for a short while- it really did not work for him.
      We have seen the mistakes of socialism and were tricked by the two faced
      smiling snake Blair.
      Farage himself has said Thatcher would have been closer to him politically
      then she ever would have Cameron.
      We are also looking towards the politicians of the past- as the current
      bunch are syrupy clones who should be hidden away is some cave in the stygian gloom-

      • James Allen

        When I said “died with Blair”, I meant with Blair’s election…. !!

        • Kitty MLB

          Yes I knew what you meant.
          We still have the larger then life Blair travelling around the world, delivering his words of wisdom and being paid
          millions in the process. I just wish we had the results
          of a certain inquiry to take that fixed smile off his face!

          • James Allen

            I was amazed my lefty friends could continue to vote for a guy who had been proven to have knowingly led the country to war on a false prospectus.

    • sfin

      Thank you for saving me some typing – spot on!

  • Mynydd

    Who is Fiona Millar?

    • Slim Jim

      She’s the partner of that traitor Alistair Campbell. Oh, and what she’s advocating is right up your street – ‘Equality & Fairness’. Actually, it’s about levelling, and as we know, there’s only one way to level – and that’s downwards…

      • HookesLaw

        What Campbell should be is an ex-convict.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Why ex?

        • Kitty MLB

          Its a pity we cannot place that fruit bat Brown and all
          his cloaked figures who polluted Westminster in the
          Tower of London- but I suppose the ravens would leave
          and I believe that would be a disaster.

    • HookesLaw

      More to the point what are her qualifications?

    • Paddy

      She is Alastair Campbell’s long term partner in crime.

    • wycombewanderer

      She’s a bit like Silly Bercow but not quite such a slapper.

    • Barakzai

      And I thought you must be a committed Guardian reader. Ms Millar and Ms Melissa Benn (yes, one of that clan) are allowed – or encouraged – to regurgitate their dreary”comprehensive education is the answer to everything” at very regular intervals in the socialists’ favourite newspaper.