18th May 2016
Education, Education and Compassionate Conservatism
-By Paddington Baby-
Last Friday night I got to the station and decided it was too cold to go down to the platform straight away, so I waited by the barriers. I pulled out my current reading material, “My Political Race” by Parmjit Dhanda. The young woman assistant there asked me if the book was good and I assumed that she knew the former education minister, reasoning to myself that the book does refer to the tightness of the Asian community and how people tend to know each other. But she had only seen Parmjit being interviewed before and did not know him. I said it was a good book, and the assistant went on to give me her political outlook.
She told me that the Labour Party was dead and will not win the next election. Anyone could have beaten Zac Goldsmith as he was the son of a billionaire. There was nothing wrong with being rich, but at least Boris Johnson has brains. Labour was driving the working class away and they would likely vote Conservative in the future. The Tories were attracting the working class with compassionate Conservatism.
The assistant believed we had always associated the far-right with malicious and nasty intent, but now the same could be said of the left. The Labour party was full of anti-Semitism and Islamism, and we could no longer automatically associate the left with good people making the world better.
I would have liked to have probed her further as to why she had drawn her conclusions, but my train was due to arrive, so I just assured her that there are many of us in the Labour party who are working hard to improve the situation and that I hoped to speak with her again.
Is the Conservative Party really shedding its “nasty party” image and practicing compassionate Conservatism? It is certainly commonplace for U-turns to be announced when public outcry declares the latest Tory policy as unacceptable to right thinking folk.
One such recent U-turn was over taking schools out of local authority control and making them all academies.
Tory education pronouncements tend to leave me perplexed. A couple of weeks ago I struggled to get my head around the government’s insistence that new nursery staff hold GCSE grade C English and Mathematics, thus creating a likely staff shortage.
I have a friend who is not academically gifted, yet has enjoyed a good career in childcare and has volunteered for projects for children. I’m sure she would never be able to reach grade C yet is gifted around children.
This insistence on holding sufficient grades comes from the same party that has argued that you do not necessarily need teaching qualifications to teach older children!
My mum is from a former communist country and came to the UK to escape religious persecution. She had to work hard to improve her English, yet insisted on teaching me to read when I was four. I did enjoy our trips to the local library from then onwards, even though the walk would have taken us about half an hour. Libraries are essential in respect of learning and need to be treasured.
When I started middle school, aged nine, many of those in my year were still unable to read. This led to my mum volunteering to come in for one day a week to provide help to those who were left behind, by reading with them in an annex full of books for children.
It is still incredible to think back to how my classmates who were native English speakers were clearly not receiving help from their own parents; they only learned to read because of the early embrace of the “Big Society” of an immigrant!
And now we have free schools. There are parents who want them, but I have always believed that a lot of work would be involved to set one up and run it and not everyone would have the right skill set. So it does not surprise me to read comments from Toby Young about how hard his experience of running a free school has been.
Labour councils may find themselves supporting free schools because it is the only way that demand for new places will be satisfied and government is encouraging of parents who want to set them up.
If only our government was as encouraging of parents who want to provide their own one-on-one support to their children’s education. It makes more sense to me that if parents have time and energy, perhaps they could spend it with their children, studying with them, rather than running schools when that could be better left to experts.
I have often perceived the Tories as wanting to emphasise the importance of the family unit. So come on David Cameron, George Osborne, Nicky Morgan et al, show us some compassionate Conservatism, and stop the cuts to local government that are closing our public libraries. Give all parents the resources to spend precious time with their children, helping them to read, grow and succeed.