The state school system won’t have me. It is pretty extraordinary really when you consider how many failing teachers the system is hiding, how it protects and wraps them in cotton wool. But speak at the Conservative Party conference, and you are branded for life. Of course, my critics have always said that I want to be a politician. Why else would I have criticised the state school system? We all know, after all, that this system is a well-oiled machine.
But if it is working so well, how do we explain that the Department for Education is inundated with applications for free schools? The applications they have had so far are from both teacher and parent groups. Might these groups also think that our education system is not good enough? Statistics alone are convincing: half of our children do not finish school with five GCSEs including Maths and English.
This particular benchmark can be achieved by taking silly BTECs and the like. One Science BTEC and English and Maths GCSE at C grades would tick this box. Yet nationally, half of our children don’t achieve even this. The recent Ebac figures have revealed that 84 per cent of our children do not get five C grades in academic subjects. Why? Because so many of our schools have abandoned language or humanities teaching at GCSE altogether. Yet people insist the system is not broken.
Rather than enter the private system, I have decided to set up a free school. It will incorporate all of the values that I keep saying are missing in our state schools: high expectations of all children (even those living on council estates), benchmarking, an extended day, an academic focus, and competition will all be part of its ethos. It will be in South London, I hope. The aim is Lambeth because the borough has a shortage of places and I know it well: I live in Brixton, after all. There is also much deprivation here, and I want my school to cater for the underprivileged as well as the privileged.
I have always believed in comprehensive education. As long as one streams and benchmarks, always keeping one’s expectations high, there is no reason why middle-class and working-class children, black and white children, noisy and quiet children, cannot learn happily and successfully side by side.
The aim is for the free school to open in September 2012. I can’t wait.