With their plan to abolish private schools, has the Labour Party forgotten about black people like me?

Diana Young
Primary school pupils in Bristol, England. Matt Cardy/Getty Images: Getty

A solid education can open doors to your future. It can increase the likelihood of securing a good job or starting your own business. Fee-paying schools allow parents to make a financial investment in their child’s education in the face of investment gaps and flaws in the state sector. For black families, those gaps are wider, and the need greater.

That is the reality the Labour Party has failed to grasp in its case for the abolition of fee-paying schools.

The independent school sector trades on its ability to bring access to smaller class sizes, increased parental involvement, specialist teachers, a community environment, ample resources and a greater breadth of extra-curricular activities.

Its goal is to secure an advantage for your child in return for money. But Labour, quite reasonably you might think, has taken a position that “children's life chances should not depend on parental wealth.” People have long argued that the private school system is unfair as it impedes social mobility.

Based on findings from the Sutton Trust, privately educated MPs made up about 39 per cent of the cabinet in spring this year. And alumni from independent schools made-up 59 per cent of permanent secretaries in the civil service and two-thirds of senior judges. Crucially though, these numbers not only reveal the advantage of attending a fee-paying school, but also the disadvantage of attending a state school, and those are disadvantages exacerbated if you are black and if you live in London.

In a world where success and failure are heavily linked to social class, there’s a new emerging black middle class that sees access to fee-paying schools as a prerequisite for their children’s success.

The difference between traditional middle-class and black middle-class starts at home. In previous generations, black people’s background and upbringing would have differed greatly based on their African or Caribbean heritage – the black experience is nothing if not nuanced.

People from working class Afro-Caribbean families have always had to work twice as hard for half the success. However, there’s a change happening; there’s a new wave of black people with working class values propelling them through their careers to cross the invisible line, becoming part of a rapidly expanding black middle class.

And they are faced with the reality that career ambitions are limited by the age of seven due to differences in social background, class, race and gender, according to a recent report by the OECD. Schooling is at the core of everything we do as children, laying the foundations for who we become as adults. Looking at black children specifically, there are reports of biased teachers with unconscious prejudices which impact how they are disciplined and assessed.

The impact of systemic racism is colossal and state school failures could be deemed the first steps in a downward spiral resulting in young black Caribbean boys becoming marginalised and losing out on a solid education.

Now let’s consider the threat of exposure to gangs, where victims and perpetrators are disproportionately disadvantaged, poor and black.

Simply put, there is an impact of social class and ethnicity on education, which makes the pursuit of anything which can counter that all the more important for black people.

Black children within the state school system face prejudice, stereotyping and bias – particularly when it comes to the ways they are grouped, assessed and disciplined. And that means the motive for sending black children to private school stems from shortcomings in the current state education system – with many families making huge sacrifices for the privilege.

Should we really give up that opportunity as black middle-class parents to break the cycle for our children?

What gives the Labour Party the right to dictate anyone’s educational path or hinder their career trajectory? A private education isn’t automatically superior, but unless your child attends a top state school, is academically gifted or pushed to excel; the distressing likelihood for a black family is that your child will underperform in a state school.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott sent her son to a fee-paying school and Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti’s son attends Dulwich College. The leader, Jeremy Corbyn, also attended a private prep school. They should not chastise us for electing to front the cost of private school education while state schools still fail to meet the requirements of parents with black children.

For many of us, the education system needs a shake-up before we can consider state school as a realistic option.