Much has been made about the fact that the new head of the Department of Education (DofE) Nicky Morgan, and her team, are by and large privately educated. The photo attached has evidently proved to be a huge problem for many. I am curious as to why so many see this as problematic and based on what evidence?
Firstly let me state that the quote at the top of the picture “this team represents modern Britain” was a comment David Cameron made about his cabinet reshuffle and not the DofE. Just to be clear.
So lets address some key points here.
1. Shared Experience
There is the assumption that without a shared experience of state education, people who are privately educated will not be able to understand or empathise with those in state education.
I am curious as to why this is the thinking behind it?
Yes of course there could be some issues by why the default assumption?
One of my favourite MPs ever was Tony Benn. A guy who was continuously portrayed as one of the most loveable members ever on the left of politics. He came from a very privileged background, in fact he actually almost never became an MP because he inherited his father’s peerage and had to fight against being prevented on this. Do we think he was a less effective politician and activist because of his privileged background?
I get it. I really do. The Conservatives have not done much to assuage any fears about there preference to privately educated, middle class people, but that doesn’t mean that we should assume those who fall into this camp are not empathetic.
2. Political Bias?
I am apolitical. I have voted for both Labour and Conservative. Across the board the others have not presented either coherent local or national policies, or demonstrated overall local leadership that made we want to vote for them. So I am curious as to why we think policy is determined by private or public schooling.
Charles Clarke who caused a furore with his top up fees for unis, Ruth Kelly and her controversial extended Schools Policy and the her failed attempt at incorporating trust schools, and Ed Balls all went to independent schools. They were all education secretaries in the last government, all Oxbridge alumni and yet there was no comment then. We need to ask ourselves why is this?
3. Does it really matter?
Whilst researching this blog I found that almost all but two of the Education Secretaries either attended an independent or leading grammar school. Both of these types of school are incredibly selective, either through money or academic achievement.
The experiences, curricula and mindset of these types of school are very different from mainstream state schools. So in essence only two secretaries, including David Blunkett (a huge exception to the rule) have not attended independent school so I am not sure why this assumption only lies with this group mentioned.
As an educator I work in a number of schools around the country. I read a heck of a lot about experiences, pedagogy and educational policy to help keep me informed in the work I do. I dialogue with a number of teachers (online and face to face) and get to converse with policy makers of all political conversations.
In the interests of disclosure I will state that my eldest daughter attended a private school and my youngest currently attends a girl grammar.
I don’t think it matters as much as many people think it does. For all his hack handedness and clumsy way of delivering it I do think that Michael Gove used his own experience to push through reforms for more state school students to have the advantages that are enjoyed by grammar and independent school students. I don’t think the new office will try to veer to far from that. Nick Gibb has returned and again although his approach (and I have personal experience of meeting both him and Gove) grates me, I don’t think that his or the other members of the team means be default they would not have empathy or the best interests of students at heart.
Time will tell.