Monday, 15 November 2010

Katharine Birbalsingh, Fiona Millar and Toby Young in internet row.

One thing that distracted me from all the protests last week and provided a slight bit of comic relief was this internet spat between the aforementioned.

It started with Fiona Millar attacking Katharine Birbalsingh, the state school teacher who spoke about poor behaviour at the Tory conference, mentioned the names of pupils she taught and then left the school. Fiona Millar rather patronisingly suggested that no one would be listening to Katharine Birbalisingh if she were middle-aged and white.  She also suggested that Birbalsingh had been hired by Michael Gove. Birbalsingh reacted angrily in her blog, asserting that she had not been paid at all by Michael Gove.  Then, Toby Young weighed in on Birbalsingh's side with a list of five questions for Fiona Millar. Over on one of Fiona Millar's comprehensive-advocacy websites, there is a ding-dong battle going on in the forums between Millar and Young.

On balance, I think I am on Birbalsingh's and Young's side. I am undecided about the merits of free schools versus comps, but I think Fiona Millar damages her argument by not listening to any of the real criticisms of state schools that Katharine Birbalsingh raises.  It's not enough to say that the majority of comps are great and the only reason why they're not great is because they're not genuinely comprehensive.  The fact is, there are real problems in a lot of our comprehensives.  This is not to put down the hard work and dedication of an awful lot of state school teachers. Indeed, most of the state school teachers I know are the most trenchant critics of their schools, at least in private.  Like I say, I am not sure that free schools are the answer but I think Fiona Millar has to do more than argue for more of the same, in the standard left-wing reactionary pose that is so common amongst the Labour party at the moment.

I love Toby Young's questions, in particular this one:  
Private Eye ran a story a few years ago saying that your son, who went to William Ellis, was given a sum of money by the school from a fund intended to help children from low income families with the cost of attending university when he won a place at Oxford. This was during your tenure as Chair of the Board of Governors and, according to the Eye, it was the Governors who doled out the money. Can you confirm if this is true? And, if it is, can you explain how your son met the eligibility criteria? 
I remember reading about this in Private Eye a few years ago and thinking it couldn't possibly be true. Would love to hear Millar's response to that!

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