After a sly fag behind the bike sheds, WALTER CRONXITE has emerged to report back on last night’s rigorous oral exam at the Croydon Central education hustings
HAS GAV GIVEN UP (Part 94)?: Tory Gavin Barwell is against the residents of the Croydon Central constituency he has represented as MP for the last five years having access to grammar school education for their children. But this doesn’t prevent him from sending his own son to Wallington County Grammar School in Sutton.This uncomfortable contradiction was highlighted by retired teacher Geoff Boyce at an election hustings, organised by the National Union of Teachers and held last night at St Andrew’s High School (in Croydon South), where Barwell told the audience that he was against the introduction of the selective 11+ in Croydon.
Barwell was pretty much on a hiding to nothing at a hustings organised by teachers who were so antagonised by Michael Gove that the former Murdoch hack had to be moved from the Department for Education’s (DfE) to head the Conservative whips’ office. All those recent tweeted pictures of Barwell with Gove canvassing the streets of Croydon are not designed to court the teacher vote in the General Election on May 7. Mind you, it’s hard to imagine whose vote a picture of Barwell and Gove would attract…
You knew that Barwell was in difficulties the moment that the full room of more than 70 attendees grumbled its disapproval at that part of Barwell’s career history that included his time as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Gove at the DfE. Fortunately for Barwell, his latest job as a Government whip in Gove’s office went unmentioned. Gove has seemingly replaced Lord Ashcroft as Barwell’s political mentor. Though Cashcroft has at least offered a reference if Barwell loses the seat to Labour’s Sarah Jones.
Croydon teachers present were clearly angered by Gove – and Barwell’s – backing for the use of untrained teaching staff in our schools. Barwell spoke lovingly of his experience of untrained teachers when he was a lad. He somehow forgot to mention that the school he had attended was the private Trinity School of John Whitgift. At other occasions, Barwell often states his pride in being a scholarship boy at what is now a £15,000-a-year fee-paying school run by the Whitgift Foundation. It does make you wonder, though, if they use so many untrained teachers what all those school fees are being spent on at the expensive Whitgift schools.Barwell kept talking about his experience as a school governor. He did not mention that he is a Trinity School governor. Not that Jones mentioned that this electoral contest is a Whitgift face-off: Jones went to Old Palace, also a Whitgift Foundation school, and her mother – a former senior staff member at her old school – is a colleague of Barwell’s on the Whitgift Foundation board.
When quizzed about what he might do if he is not re-elected as Croydon Central’s MP, Barwell said he might want to be a teacher. Presumably not in IT…
“I look forward to the election of a Labour government so that Gavin can receive proper training,” Jones said, playing her audience rather well.
This was just the first of a number of knock-out blows landed by Jones, who does not even contemplate that she won’t win on May 7. Barwell, meanwhile, has been telling some of his campaign team that he feels that the Croydon Central election is already lost, a view confirmed by the career politician’s former colleagues at Tory Central Office, according to right-wing mag The Spectator today.
Jones was cheered by the audience as she promised to do “all I can to support you” and referred to foodbank use and temporary housing that compromised pupils’ learning. More than 4,000 Croydon pupils live in temporary accommodation. Jones’ broadening of the debate to housing and living standards left her on top after being hemmed in by some very detailed education policy questions over the previous 90 minutes.
Up until those blows to his solar plexus, Barwell had been ahead on points. It was the hustings equivalent of “Rope-a-Dope”.The debate was of the very highest quality, with very demanding, detailed points put to the candidates. With the general secretary of the NUT, Christine Blower, also being on the panel, this was a high-powered event.
Questions posed by the national NUT president, Philipa Harvey, were more A-level standard than GCSE, and all posed with challenging subsidiary questions. Both the candidates were admirably well-briefed and knowledgeable – clearly A* material.
Keeping the debate to just the two main challengers for Croydon’s one marginal seat enhanced the spectacle.
Barwell must hope that wavering UKIP voters make the same judgement as the NUT, see the seat as a “two-horse race” (is that the naffest piece of artwork seen on 21st century election literature?) and respond to David Cameron’s call to come “home” to vote Tory.
Barwell’s incumbency as MP and his experience in the DfE were used to the full and he answered all the questions. It seemed that Barwell had, after all, been more than just the Secretary of State’s bag-carrier at the DfE that he used to try to claim.
Barwell was self-assured. His remarks about this year’s 6 per cent increase in education funding for Croydon and the command of improved performance data by academies were part of a wider full grasp of all the education questions asked.
Barwell might be a Conservative Party loyalist in Westminster, but back here in Croydon, as ever, he was an apologist flirtatiously showing a bit of leg by disagreeing with the Tory party line. “I am very easy-going,” he assured the audience. Tanned by his street campaigning in the recent good weather, he played the part of the incumbent MP well, offering to take back issues to Ministers. It was pride before the fall.
Jones left some questions unanswered or even openly volunteered that she did not know the answer. Good exam technique suggests attempting to answer all the questions.
Barwell pointedly did not though answer the question about his experience outside politics, but there is a good reason for that: he has none, unlike Jones, who has career experience in public affairs and communications for government departments and industry.
At a union-organised event, a Barwell win was most unlikely. He will hope that his professed desire “to champion pupils’ needs” through the academisation of schools will be more attractive to the wider voting public seeking the best education for their children. And that very few of them discover his hypocrisy over his own education choices for his family.
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