Simon Jenkins: writing with forked pen

by Stephen Tall on October 28, 2005

As the voice of Liberal England, Jonathan Calder, noted a couple of days ago , Simon Jenkins appears charmingly content to fit his voice to his readership. On Wednesday, he biffed Blair for giving parents some say in their kids’ education:

The education white paper offers a vision of a “parent-led” state secondary-school system. Its key institution is the “self-governing school free to parents”, a copy of the Tories’ grant-maintained school that Labour once derided. Parents will be able to control a school’s “ethos and individualism”. As one parent briskly put it to me, “We can keep out the blacks.”… Most parents cannot and do not want to roam the country in search of the “school of their choice”, even if the transport system could stand the strain. They want the school closest to where they live to be an excellent one, period.

Of course, the best state schools already have a pretty effective racial screening process: it’s called the housing market, and it means that the poorer communities too often don’t get a look in.

And of course parents would prefer their local school “to be an excellent one, period”. Who knows, though, they might even prefer the option of two excellent local schools offering different curriculums, a different ethos, different extra-curricular activities, etc.

Perhaps Mr Jenkins doesn’t feel parents should bother their little heads with such minor concerns?

But all this then made for a bizarre experience today to read Mr Jenkins’s article for The Spectator, headlined Independence for Oxford. Here we read:

The government last week proposed what is a de facto voucher scheme for English secondary schools. They can be self-governing institutions with the freedom to determine their ethos and accept [financial] contributions from parents and others. Oxford would be no different in principle.

So let me get this straight, Mr Jenkins: you are happy to champion independence for educational institutions which are free to determine their own futures when writing for The Spectator – but equally happy to diss it as terrible idea when writing for The Guardian? It’s one way of achieving balance, I guess.