Sunday, 20 June 2010

Diane Abbott plays dodgy race card - would she let her son carry a knife?

In an interview with the Mirror, Diane Abbott suggested that West Indian mothers fight harder for their children than mothers from other cultures - and that this was why she sent her son to private school.

Her interviewer, Brian Reade commented in the piece: "I struggle with her defence that it’s a West Indian mum thing. As though non-Caribbean mothers don’t face the same problems in inner-city schools and wouldn’t fight to the death for their sons."

Reade had asked her why politicians from the left were so upset by her decision to send her son to a private school.

Diane Abbott: "Yes, but they didn’t understand me. I’m a West Indian mum and West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children.

It’s that kind of atavistic streak that we have. I can see them in the market on a Saturday morning. A kind of ‘touch my children and we’ll turn quite difficult’.

Interestingly, until now, it’s the one thing that’s got me the most positive response from black women locally. They would come up to me and shake my hand. Because ultimately in their eyes it’s about doing the right thing for their children. But obviously people from other cultures didn’t see it that way at all."

So would Diane revise this comment from a speech she made earlier this year: "I was very shocked by one parent whom I saw at an advice surgery. A young boy came in and said to me that he was in trouble for carrying a knife at school. He told me that he had carried it to defend himself and his mother said, "Yes, he did carry it to defend himself and I allowed him to carry it to school to defend himself".

She went on to say: "Parents should know that there can be no circumstances in which they should collude with their child's taking a knife to school and I said that to that mother."

But do Diane's recent comments mean that she really would understand if it was her son defending himself? Or that she would understand if the mother was West Indian?

Meanwhile her past comments about giving parents any power in the state school system have been unsympathetic - as if the instincts of every parent should be distrusted as selfish and destructive to other children.

In a 2006 NASUWT-sponsored paper (Academy schools: case unproven) Diane said: "... We know what parent power means in London. In practice, it means giving power to small groups of white middle-class parents, or if not to capture by one ethnic group as opposed to another, the best organised. Actually, if you want to empower the breadth of the parent body in inner-city areas you have to look to the local education authority."

Below is a longer excerpt from the 2006 report to provide some context. It also seems to suggest that leaders of London's black communities may not have provided black parents with reasonable solutions to schooling problems:

Page 38: Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, (whose lack of confidence in her local comprehensive schools was expressed in her decision to send her own son to the private City of London School) has led a movement to improve secondary education for Black children. With the support of the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, she has organised a series of ‘London Schools and the Black Child’ conferences which have produced a range of proposals to tackle the problem of underachievement by Black boys in particular. Among the sessions at the 2003 conference was one focusing on ‘Alternative Community Schools for African-Caribbean children’. Yet, despite attracting 200 participants to the session (there are in total 3,000 names on the database maintained by the conference organisers), the conference report reveals that the number of parents interested in taking it further was small: ‘over 40 participants signed up for follow-up action towards setting up and running their own schools’ (Mayor of London, 2003). The fact that the large majority even of those who attended the session did not show interest in such follow-up suggests that, while the problems of underachievement addressed by the conference are beyond dispute, the idea of tackling it by setting up independent schools for Black children attracts much less support.

Moreover, when it is proposed, the idea attracts robust opposition from within the Black community. When the London Mayor’s advisor, Lee Jasper, suggested that Black parents should group together to win state finance to set up separate schools, others, such as Tony Sewell, strongly opposed the idea. Moreover, former OFSTED chief David Bell warned that nation building and citizenship in Britain could be undermined by the approach taken by some existing independent faith schools. There is much more support for supplementary schools, run independently on Saturdays and after the normal school day, but precisely as supplements rather than replacements to existing provision. The ‘London Schools and the Black Child’ conferences have also revealed much stronger support for improving existing schools in various ways, to tackle what is seen as their institutional racism, than for replacing them. Diane Abbott herself insists there is no single solution to the problem, and highlights the point by both urging that there should be more Black leadership of schools and pointing to the successes of Sir Michael Kilshaw (should be Wilshaw), who is not Black, in raising the attainment of Black boys. Sir Michael is now principal of Hackney’s first academy, Mossbourne, but was previously headteacher of a Catholic comprehensive school in another East London borough, Newham. ‘After an article I wrote in The Observersome years ago, Michael Kilshaw (Wilshaw) wrote to me and said you ought to come to my school and see what I do about it,’ Abbott recalls. She took up the offer, and found a school with an ‘extraordinary atmosphere’ of calm and order. ‘It wasn’t a Black school as such but it was in Newham and it was 95 per cent Black and it got such good results that the Government used it as an example of what to do about Black boys,’ Abbott says. Key measures in the successful approach had been individual student targets, a system of after-school homework clubs and well-organised academic mentoring.

Page 39: Sir Michael has taken such techniques to Mossbourne, and yet Diane Abbott comments: ‘The trouble with the academies is that, popular as they are and supportive as I am of Mossbourne, there is a danger that they take us back to that past. All the research shows that if you introduce an element of selection, working-class children will lose out. If you have a borough like Hackney and have four academies and four wonderful heads there will still be a residue of children and I know what those children will look like.’ She adds: ‘We know what parent power means in London. In practice, it means giving power to small groups of white middle-class parents, or if not to capture by one ethnic group as opposed to another, the best organised. Actually, if you want to empower the breadth of the parent body in inner-city areas you have to look to the local education authority.’ In a number of cases, parents groups struggling with insufficient local school places have had to take different routes in efforts to exercise power in the system, as the case studies below illustrate...

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