Theresa May attacks Labour frontbenchers for sending their kids to private school
Theresa May launched an extraordinary attack on the private education of Labour frontbenchers' children as she clashed with Jeremy Corbyn over the Government's school reforms.
The Prime Minister made the incendiary comments as she accused the Labour leader, who like Mrs May attended a grammar school, of wanting to deny others the opportunities from which he benefitted.
But Mr Corbyn hit back, lambasting Mrs May over her “vanity project” of bringing in a new wave of selective schools, and said the Government was “betraying a generation of young people” with its funding cuts.
During a fiery exchange in the Commons, Mr Corbyn centred his questions on changes to the schools funding formula, as he accused the Tories of breaking a manifesto pledge to protect spending per pupil.
In an astonishing response Mrs May turned her fire on Shadow Cabinet members Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti, who sent their children to private schools, and Mr Corbyn for sending his son to a grammar school.
“What we have done in relation to the funding formula is addressed an issue that Labour ignored for all its time in government,” she began.
“We’ve put forward a proposal, we’re consulting on it, the consultation closes today, and we will respond to that consultation.
“But he talks about the issue of the sort of system in schools we want. Yes, we want diversity, we want different sorts of schools, we have put money into new school places.
“But I say to the Right Honourable Gentleman: his Shadow Home Secretary sent her child to a private school, his Shadow Attorney General sent her child to a private school, he sent his child to a grammar school, he went to a grammar school himself. Typical Labour, take the advantage and pull up the ladder behind you.”
Responding, Mr Corbyn said: “I want a decent, fair opportunity for every child in every school. I want a staircase for all, not a ladder for the few.”
The Department for Education says the new funding formula will improve fairness as it redirects money from well-funded city schools to those in rural and coastal settings.
But the Institute for Fiscal Studies today warned of “significant winners and losers” over the reforms as some schools are facing “protracted cuts”.
Mr Corbyn referred to the think tank’s report in the Commons, and also cited Tory opposition to grammar expansion from Nicky Morgan and Education Select Committee chairman Neil Carmichael.
“The Prime Minister and her government are betraying a generation of young people by cutting the funding for every child. Children will have fewer teachers, larger classes, fewer subjects to choose from and all the Prime Minister can do is focus on her grammar school vanity project that can only ever benefit a few children,” he boomed.
“Is the Prime Minister content that this generation, this generation in our schools today will see their schools decline, their subject choices diminished, and their life chances held back by decision of her government today?”
The Prime Minister listed the Government’s record on education in response, and insisted that changes to the funding formula were overdue and fair, before attacking the Labour leader.
“Protected school funding, more teachers in our schools, more teachers with first class degrees, more children in good and outstanding schools – it’s not a vanity project to want every child to have a good school place,” she said.
“But it shows there is a difference between the Right Honourable Gentleman and me. Earlier this week he recorded a video calling for unity, he called for Labour to think of our people first, think of our movement first, think of the party first - that's the difference between him and me - Labour put the party first, we put the country first.”
The Government faces strong opposition from Tory MPs to changes to the schools funding formula, with backbencher Geoffrey Clifton-Brown predicting last week that the plans would be defeated in the Commons unless ministers change tack.
Mrs May is also up against a cross-party backlash against plans to expand grammar schools.