There is less to this Alan Johnson bloke than meets the eye. Following his clumsy attack on Margaret Hodge by labelling her brave attempt to open up discussion on immigration as “an echo of BNP policy”, he has now launched into private schools – or, at least, that was apparently the intention. What he did instead was to denigrate state school teachers.
Private schools should justify their charitable status, he said, by lending their teachers to state schools. The obvious implication is that state school teachers are not up to the job and could learn a thing or two from the private sector.
It begins to look as if Johnson’s reputation for quiet common-sense is in fact based on his having had the wisdom to keep his trap shut on subjects of which he is ignorant. All the candidates for deputy leadership of the Labour Party are opening their mouths like fish at a football match. No-one takes much notice of people like Harman and Blears because they have their gobs open all the time anyway. Johnson is getting the press because he usually keeps a silence commensurate with his talents – and we need a few like that in this government.
I won’t rehearse the arguments, but I will draw attention to the recent television programme which put three state school pupils into a private school and then sent the private pupils to the state school. There was no sense that the state school – or its teachers – were disadvantaged by the comparison.
My children went to both private and state schools, and benefited from and enjoyed both. The experience taught them, and us, that there is indeed a vast gulf between the teachers and the pupils in both sectors. It is not a gulf of talent or quality, but one of understanding.
Private schools do have one enormous advantage over state schools and it is nothing to do with money. It is that, for the most part, they can wave two fingers at the interference which comes down from government.
If Alan Johnson really wants to do something useful as Education Secretary, he should encourage – not threaten or bully – private and state schools to do things together to bridge the understanding gap. He should also stop his department from tampering with education both at the big policy level and at the micro-management level.