Shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti has denied that she is a hypocrite for sending her son to an expensive private school when she opposes the Conservative party’s plans to open new state-run grammar schools.
Chakrabarti’s son attends the prestigious Dulwich College, where fees start at £18,000-a-year and all students have to pass tough entrance exams to win a place. Critics have argued that while she wants her son to benefit from a private education, Chakrabarti is against children from poorer families taking advantage of selective education, where the highest achieving 11-year-old students are picked to attend grammar schools.
“I have real concerns about grammar schools. In my lifetime, I have met too many people, including incredibly bright, successful people, who carry that scar of failing the 11-plus, and that segregation in schooling,” she said on Sunday (October 9).
When it was pointed out that her comments could make her appear to be a hypocrite, Chakrabarti hit back, saying she was merely “trying to do her best” for her son. She defended her right to help people who don’t “live a charmed and privileged” life like hers.
The 47-year-old added: “I live in a nice big house, and eat nice food, and my neighbours are homeless and go to food banks. Does that make me a hypocrite, or does it make me someone who is trying to do their best, not just for my own family, but for other people’s families too?
“And this thing about selection – if you’ve got money, you will always be all right. If you don’t have money in this country, you are increasingly not all right, and that is why I have joined the Labour party.”
Grammar schools are state secondary institutions that select their students based on those who pass exams at 11 years of age, known as the “11-plus”. Those pupils who fail the exams are placed in secondary schools.
The UK doesn’t have a selection based education system, as all pupils of all abilities are taught together, and that’s why out of 3,000 state schools, only 163 are grammar schools.
Prime minister Theresa May announced last month that she will look to overturn what she called an “arbitrary” ban since 1998 on the creation of new grammar schools. She would not only allow new grammar schools opening but also allow existing schools to become grammar schools.
Grammar schools have been accused of favouring the rich over the poor, with poor children still under-represented in existing grammar schools, while others have criticised the idea of segregating children at such a young age. Even May’s predecessor David Cameron was once quoted as saying “parents fundamentally don’t want their children divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”.
The Conservatives have said all new grammar schools would be forced to take on a minimum number of their students from low-income families. And education secretary Justine Greening added that poorer children in grammar schools performed better than their wealthier counterparts.
“Grammars for them (poorer children) are closing the attainment gap. So this is also about saying how can we make sure grammar schools are more open for those disadvantaged children, so that they can really turbo-charge their education,” she said.