And Kelly Makes Three

Posted in Janine's blog on Mon, 08/01/2007 - 21:12,

Following Hazel Blears and Karen Buck reacting against the impact on their own turf of New Labour's vandalism of public services, Ruth Kelly dominates today's news with the revelation that she is sending her son to a private school.

Political reactions to this appear awash with sympathy. Ah, poor Ruth. How can anyone condemn the actions of a parent of a child with special needs when they are not in this situation themselves and can not know the difficult choices she faces? Well, I am in that situation myself, and I am quite prepared to condemn Kelly as an elitist and a hypocrite.

Her decision is a clear admission that state education provision for kids with special needs is not good enough. Or, to be more precise, not good enough for her son. Whether it is good enough for the rest of our special-needs kids, she does not say.

The fact is that the vast majority of parents can not afford to splash out fifteen grand a year on school fees. And even if we could, why should we have to take our kids out of public provision, away from democratic scrutiny, apart from their local community, into an elitist system, to get them a decent education?

I can fully accept that state education for children with special needs is not up to scratch. Ruth Kelly, as a member of the Government and a former Education Secretary, is at least partly responsible for that! But she buys her way out of the inadequate system that she failed to improve, leaving the rest of us to languish in it.

When I met with my son Joe's doctors to be told that he has Asperger Syndrome, I asked whether he would be able to attend mainstream schools - meaning, of course, mainstream rather than special schools, not state rather than private! The consultant paediatrician told me that he should be able to, provided that the mainstream state school concerned had sufficient resources to deal with his needs.

As we guide Joe through the ten years plus of education in front of him (he is currently in Reception year), we need to feel confident that the state will educate and look after him. Seeing a Cabinet minister and former Education Secretary send her son out of the state sector is just about the biggest blow to that confidence we could have. I think that's what makes me angriest of all.

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