The only thing to be said for Shami Chakrabarti’s stance on selective education – she’s against the reintroduction of grammar schools because it’s tantamount to ‘segregation in schooling’ but her own son is going to Dulwich College – is that she’s not alone. Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary, sent two children way outside her constituency to a selective school; Harriet Harman ditto; Diane Abbott’s son went to private school. Yet they’re all against grammars. Frankly it would take less time to point out the Labour bigwig who isn’t hypocritical on this one, viz, Jeremy Corbyn, whose first marriage is said to have foundered, inter alia, on the grammar school question, which makes him seem less, not more, human.
Do I need to point out the double hypocrisy here – not just opting for selection on the basis of academic merit (they don’t take all comers at Dulwich, still less at Eton – Shami shyly refused to say whether it was true her son took the entrance exam) but on the basis of money? £18,000 a year for Dulwich, which pretty well excludes most of us. Her justification, as is usual in these cases, is that she is trying to do her best ‘not just for my own family but for other people’s families too?’ Thank you Shami. At least she didn’t try to repeat the really dud argument the Labour party appeared to advance on her behalf, that it was all her former husband’s fault.
I am rather torn on the grammar school question myself; certainly I wouldn’t want a return of one-off 11-plus selection on the basis that some children come into their own a bit later. For one thing, I’m not in the least confident my own children would pass it. And I do think streaming can work. But I do like a little consistency in my shadow attorney generals. If selection is so traumatic it leaves scars on those who try it and fail, why allow your own child to undergo it? And if segregation is such a bad thing, why do it yourself on the basis of income as well as academic merit? One rule for us, one for you?
Shami, as I say, isn’t alone. And before any of our legislators – lower and upper houses – sound off on this one, when the bill comes up, let’s require them to declare an interest: where are their children getting educated? I think we’d find that lots of the Tories who are quite passionate on the issue may turn out to be paying for their own children to opt out of the state sector – David Cameron will be interesting on this one. As for Labour, I think we know where quite a few of them stand. Well, let them say so.