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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Anger over Letwin school 'insult'
Oliver Letwin
Mr Letwin called for more choice of schools for all
Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin has declared he would "go out on the streets and beg" to avoid sending his children to an inner city comprehensive, a report says.

The Eton-educated politician said he would give his right arm to go private in the London borough of Lambeth, where he lives during the week, according to the Evening Standard.

The comprehensive in question is believed to be Lilian Baylis School in Kennington, which has achieved below average GCSE results.

Head teacher Gary Phillips said standards had improved and that pupils and parents would be upset by Mr Letwin's remarks.

'Choice needed'

At a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, Mr Letwin reportedly said he was trying to get his 10-year-old daughter Laura into a "particular public school in London".

He added: "Miraculously, the middle-class parents with the money end up getting their children into good schools.

"In Lambeth, where I live, I would give my right arm to send them to a fee-paying school.

"If necessary, I would go out on the streets and beg rather than send them to the school next to where I live.

"What about the other parents in Lambeth who are forced to use the state schools because they don't have the money? We need to give them the choice as well."

I would be much more willing to accept Mr Letwin's comments if he had ever actually been to the school and I would like to extend an invitation to him to come and look
Gary Phillips, head teacher

Mr Letwin said he would, however, consider sending his children to state schools in his Dorset constituency.

This week, the Conservative Party promised a voucher scheme for education whereby funding would follow a child.

This, it said, would enable parents to spend the amount of money the government spends on each state school pupil at a school of their choice.

The party says this money could not be used towards a place at a private school as partial fees, but could, for example, go into a school being set up by parents or a charitable foundation.

This year, only 17% of GCSE pupils at Lilian Baylis got five or more passes at grade C and above.

Meanwhile, just 26% of its 14 year olds reached the government's required standard in English and 32% in maths.

And in last year's performance tables, the school was rated among the top 5% in England in terms of its "value-added" performance, which takes circumstances into account.

Education watchdog Ofsted said in a 2001 report: "There are some clear signs that the situation is improving, with well-focused and determined leadership from governors and senior managers."

Mr Phillips said: "It is very upsetting for both children and parents to be told that their school is no good when they know full well that it is.

'Insulted the parents'

"We are fully aware that the school's exam results are lower than the national average.

"But, as a result of the government's value-added scheme, which takes other factors, like whether children actually speak English when they arrive at the school, Lilian Baylis is registered as one of the top 100 schools in the country.

"I would be much more willing to accept Mr Letwin's comments if he had ever actually been to the school and I would like to extend an invitation to him to come and look at what we do here before he decides to discuss us again."

Mr Phillips added: "Has Mr Letwin ever wondered if a 100% record of A to C grades at a school which only accepts gifted children from wealthy homes is as much of an achievement as a 10% record of A to C grades at a school where the children can't speak English when they start there? I doubt it."

Junior education minister Stephen Twigg said: "Oliver Letwin has insulted the parents, teachers and pupils of every state school in the country.

"We are working with schools to improve standards and give every child, regardless of their ability to pay, the kind of choice that Oliver Letwin wants parents to pay for."

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