Islington’s Obama aftermath

How much more damning can it be that it takes an American politician to find something so positive and inspiring in a school shunned by its own MP?

That’s the conclusion of a thoughtful piece in the Observer about what Michelle Obama’s visit tells us about the First Lady and about schools like EGA.

I was a governor at EGA for four years, chairing the Finance Committee, and helping appoint the fantastic Head, Jo Dibb. I have always been proud of the school and its bright and beautiful young women. It’s full name – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College – may sound like the sort of place that brings Italian teenagers to Brighton to learn English, but no, it’s the local girls’ comprehensive. As the Observer reports, “its pupils, of whom 20% are the children of refugees or asylum seekers, speak a total of 55 different languages and 92% of whom are from a black or minority background.”

EGA’s part of an innovative e-learning project with other schools in the Kings Cross area. Its annual language festival – where the girls teach each other new languages – is an inspiring event. On my school visits, I was always impressed: the level of teaching, the behaviour of students as good as anything at my old school. The facilities have improved dramatically too. There is new school library, language labs and tennis courts, even before the hoped-for rebuild. Ofsted graded it excellent and now outstanding.

Just last week I spoke to one of my constituents on the neighbouring Barnsbury estate; he was anxious about how his oldest daughter was going to find EGA when she starts there this autumn. Don’t worry, I said, it’s a great school. By now he’ll know the First Lady agrees.

It’s entirely right for parents to want the best for their children. But as Ofsted confirms, EGA is giving the best of educations to its young women. So why are local Labour politicos, including Emily Thornberry, so reluctant to send their own daughters there? I suspect it’s the old elephant in the corner of the English education system: not standards but social class.

Thank God for Michelle Obama, who is, to quote James Kempton, “probably the greatest black female role model today”, seeing the best in EGA: not rough, just diamonds.


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