Most of the commentary about tonight’s education vote will be political
thumb sucking. Is Tony Blair the new Ramsay MacDonald, cut off from his
party and dependent on the support of treacherous Tories? Has young Cameron
played a brilliant hand and made his own entry to 10 Downing Street more
Interesting and important questions, no doubt. But perhaps you would be
do better to look at the parents who send their children to London’s faith
schools to catch a glimpse of the nightmare future Blair’s education
“reforms” will bring.
It’s not the parents who hussle to get their children into faith schools
who are the nightmare: most simply want the best for their children. A
couple I know are typical. They sold up in inner-London to rent within the
catchment area of a Highgate Church of England school, which is selective
in all but name. Like so many others, they lied to the vicar and pretended
to worship a god whose existence they doubted, and moved house once their
children were safely in.
So what? ask nearly all my contemporaries. Ever since the grammar
schools went, the education system has crippled London. Terrible schools
drive parents into the Home Counties and beyond. They leave behind a
limping, lop-sided city overly endowed with the very rich and very poor,
young singles and old age pensioners, but without enough of the middle aged
and the middle class from whose ranks everyone from councillors to charity
organisers are usually drawn.
If parents want to use faith schools as grammar schools, there’s no harm
done, their argument runs, at least they stay in London. But as faith
schools expand, Catholic, Anglican and Jewish schools will be matched by
Muslim, Hindu and Sikh schools. The case for them is unarguable as long as
faith schools persist unchallenged. Yet when they come, we will have the
nightmare of children divided by race and religion – the two most noxious
sources of conflict on the planet. They will grow up without friends from
other religions and with different coloured skins.
For how many white children are going to go to Muslim schools, or brown
children to Anglican schools or black children to Sikh schools? If you want
to see the effects of segregation, you don’t have to look to the US Deep
South or Apartheid South Africa – just look across the sea to Northern
Journalists always engage in hyperbole, so I hope I’m being serious and
restrained when I say that if Parliament doesn’t stop Blair and begin to
think about bringing a secular education system, people will gaze back from
a sectarian future and wonder what we thought we were doing when we so
casually allowed our society to be smashed into fragments.
TO George Clooney’s Syriana, whose incomprehensible plot left me more
shocked than awed. If I understood him, he was trying to say that America’s
policy in the Middle East was “all about oil”.
Ah, so that’s why America insisted on sanctions on Iraqi oil from 1991
to 2003. That’s why Bush spent an enormous amount of blood and treasure
overthrowing Saddam Hussein rather than allowing his friends in the Texas
oil industry to cut a lucrative deal.
What got to me afterwards was that the reviewers ignored Clooney’s
airbrushing of history and praised his “bravery”. Dear me, it is not brave
in liberal Hollywood to oppose Bush. The brave thing to do in liberal
Hollywood is to make a film supporting American policy, which is why no one
WITH THE London Assembly reporting that 40 per cent of public toilets
have vanished, we arbiters of metropolitan taste are worrying about the
correct form for the caught short.
When pubs are busy, there’s no difficulty. The experienced Londoner
slips in and out without making eye contact with the bartenders or the
notice saying “Toilets Are For Customers Only”. Pubs empty of everyone
except disgustingly welcoming staff, however, are a social minefield.
You have to buy something. A pint won’t do because it will bring a
recurrence of your problem in half an hour, so my advice is to order a neat
whisky and if necessary get them in for your partner and children too.
Whisky may wreck your liver but it leaves you and your family in a fit
state to cope with the London beyond the pub doors.
WITH EVEN the University of Oxford saying the internet has allowed endemic
cheating, an old debate has been settled. For decades, supporters of course
work and supporters of unseen exams have argued. “We prepare pupils for
sustained study”, said the advocates of course work; “we prepare them to
deal with a crisis”, said the advocates of exams. Different forms of
testing were meant to discriminate against boys or girls, and each side
accused the other of sexism. So it went on with good points on both sides.
With cutting and pasting from the Net, all that’s over. The only option
is to herd pupils into dusty halls, give them pens and paper and have
suspicious teachers stare at them as they sit an unseen exam. Anything else
and the results will be worthless.