We should be “very proud” of Britain’s private schools and resist the urge to discriminate against their pupils; so says Nadhim Zahawi, and he is absolutely right. It is refreshing to see a Conservative Education Secretary, unencumbered by all the usual nonsensical class hang-ups that continue to plague much of his party from him, finally standing up for the private school system and the parents who make such sacrifices to pay for their children’s education.
The rest of the world looks up to our independent sector, and deems it the best on the planet, one of the UK’s last remaining assets. It helps attract top people in the race for talent. Rather than denigrating this success story, it would make more sense to examine what it gets right and copy it.
Mr Zahawi is also spot on about something else: the best way to narrow the gap between public and private is to improve state schools. Sadly, and here the Government is less forthcoming, state education was damaged catastrophically by the lockdowns and could take years to recover. The unions have been emboldened, and much of the progress undone.
Bias against the independent sector fails on its own terms. It is un-meritocratic: applications should be judged on an individual basis. It punishes aspiration, family values and individual responsibility, including from the growing number of first- or second-generation immigrant families who scrimp and save to educate their children.
It will undermine our universities: a brain-drain to America seems inevitable if bright students fear discrimination here. And it does nothing to fix the real problem, ie standards in state schools and the fact that too many comprehensive pupils continue to be discouraged from applying for university as a result of a disgusting culture of low expectations.
The educational blob loathes ambition and success, preferring the egalitarianism of shared failure. As long as he can show that he is focused on improving standards in state schools, Mr Zahawi’s welcome words of praise for the independent sector will also appeal to a small but significant slice of the population: prosperous, highly educated Southerners who voted Remain, educate their children privately but are defecting to Labor or the Liberal Democrats. There is, after all, clear blue water between the parties, or so Mr Zahawi’s intervention suggests.
Yet words are not enough: the Education Secretary may wish to see the end of the war against independent education, but in supposedly Tory Britain, Left-wing activists in the quangos and admissions offices are waging their destructive campaign regardless. Mr Zahawi must clip their wings, urgently.