Is Tristram Hunt declaring ‘class war’ on private schools?

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untitledTristram Hunt came to Walthamstow this morning and made a speech where he highlighted the fact that ‘there can be little doubt that Britain is an increasingly divided country. Riven by growing disparities in the distribution of wealth, power and opportunity.’ He wanted to focus on one particular aspect of that divide: ‘A divide that has become emblematic of a country run for the benefit of the privileged few not the many; The divide between private and state education. ‘

He recognised that ‘ poverty need not cap aspiration; and that hard work and talent can overcome the highest of hurdles; ‘ but that ‘there was also no escaping the fact that students from some state schools had overcome so much more in order to get to University than those that went to certain private schools. ‘

He asserted that whilst he was not alone in doing so we must recognise that ‘If we are to prosper as a country, we need to be a more equal country. If we are to make the most of the wealth of talent that exists in every community, we need to give every child a chance. And if we are to be a country which works for most people, we need to break down the divisions in our school system. ‘

Tristram then went on to outline some of the ways in which this divide could be overcome. He wanted a new settlement. He announced that a Labour government would ‘amend the Independent Schools Regulations to introduce a new ‘Schools Partnership Standard’ that will require all state-subsidised private schools to form a hard-edged partnership with state schools.’

He was quite specific about some of what would be required: ‘we will be crystal clear when amending the regulations about what criteria schools will be judged upon to pass the standard. For example, as a bare minimum:

All private schools should provide qualified teachers to help to deliver specialist subject knowledge to state schools.

All secondary private schools should assist with expertise to help get disadvantaged state school kids into top class universities, including Oxbridge.

And all private schools should run joint extra-curricular programmes where the state schools is an equal partner. ‘

As he ruefully acknowledged later, there is no more money for carrots and so he was reliant upon the stick to get results. These would be achieved by ‘pass[ing] new legislation which amends the 1988 Local Government Act so that private schools’ business rate relief becomes conditional upon passing the Schools Partnership Standard. And we will make sure the Independent Schools Inspectorate demonstrates the rigour its sector is renowned for – and assess private schools commitment to this standard as part of their inspection cycle. ‘

Class war? I don’t think so. But a belated recognition of class divisions and inequality as being crucial elements in educational outcomes. I think so.


  1. It this is “class war” then it is one fought with celery sticks instead of swords or stronger armoury. It’s one that accepts that the enemy will still be there doing whatever one is supposed to be fighting about, when all the dust has settled. It’s a joke. Who can take this seriously? This is Labour in its court jester mode. The Jester is allowed to be rude to the king but in no way challenges his position.

    I don’t want to give up the time required to refute this nonsense (Tristram Hunt has an extensive supply). Fortunately Frances Ryan has already done this for us .


  2. This is a continuation of Brown Labour’s policy, and is not invented by Hunt. For those (and the Ryan article is amnesiac on the history) who do not know what has happened over the last decade, Brown Labour tried to remove the charitable status, was taken to court by the Independent Schools Council and lost. This is an attempt to get round the legal judgement by using a financial loophole. Rightly or wrongly, this is not a new policy but an adaptation of an old one. Unless colleagues know the recent history of the Labour Party, and it is not a secret, they cannot make sense of what is going on.

    Trevor Fisher.


  3. Trevor, Ryan makes clear the entrenched class nature of the current system and shows why Tristram Hunt’s proposal would not significantly change that. Is that not to make sense of what is going on – whatever the historical lead-up?
    Mind you, I don’t agree with everything she says. For example she, like Tristram Hunt, is fixated on “social mobility” which, in an unequal society, as Selena Todd said in her Caroline Benn Memorial Lecture, is just a way of recycling that inequality and not of removing it.


  4. Another aspect of the proposals is that they will be seen by teachers in state schools as infuriatingly patronising. Emily Thornberry lost her position because her twitted photograph was thought to show lack of respect for the working class, but Tristram Hunt’s implied down grading of the professionalism of our teaching profession passes without comment. Does he not know that research evidence has shown that handing over schools to sponsored Academies does not automatically improve them ? And why does he think that the Public Schools possess expertise lacking in state schools? What they do have are greater resources and smaller class sizes. Their ex-pupils obtain top jobs not because of the superiority of their education but through upper/upper-middle class networking.
    For years now, the media have missed no chance to disparage teachers to the extent that they have become almost an underclass. If the Labour Party now wants their votes, it should show respect for the difficult and skilled tasks they do in educating 93% of the nation’s children. Why do their feelings count for less than those of the white van driver who decorated his house with flags?


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