The former Labour Home Secretary Alan Johnson visited York on Friday for a talk to students, hosted by the York University Labour Club. Whilst he focused on social mobility, Johnson spoke on university tuition fees and the state of the economy.
One of the central issues regarding social mobility was the condition of the state schooling system, and the difference between private, remaining grammar schools, and state comprehensives. Johnson was open in admitting he went to a grammar school, albeit for only four years, and went on to say why he believed that the grammar school issue would resurface, with schools wanting to continue to select the top 15% of pupils at 11+.
A controversial question came from a student who asked why private schools weren’t abolished if they were such a barrier to social mobility. The MP for West Hull and Hessle jovially replied how he wished to replicate the advantages of private schools in the state sector, and believed that was well on its way with the opening up of these schools as part of their charitable status.
“We can’t do anything about pushy parents, but there are far too many failing schools out there, so we mustn’t give up.”
“There are far too many failing schools out there, so we mustn’t give up”
Alan Johnson MP
The only member of the Labour cabinet to not graduate from university spoke on university fees, stating that he still believed the views put forward in the Ron Dearing report in 2004, which were in support of fees. “Society is today grouped around universities and colleges, and students should therefore make a contribution to society, only – however – when they reach a certain income.”
Whilst he did not say he was against £9,000 fees, Johnson did confirm the belief that he disagreed with the intricacies of a graduate tax, proposed by Ed Miliband. There is significantly “more work needed”, Johnson declared, until it will become a viable alternative to the current proposals.
Johnson shared the opinion of many aggrieved students that bemoan the vast differences in tuition fees between England and other parts of the UK. Johnson felt it was “very unhealthy to have different systems in different parts of the UK”, but failed to offer his audience with a plausible solution.
When Johnson arrived 25 minutes late, he told to the Labour-heavy crowd: “I blame the government transport policy.”