MORE than a fortnight has passed since the grandstanding announcement from Middlesbrough mayor, Andy Preston, that he had been engaged in secret talks with Eton College about opening a selective sixth form college in Middlesbrough.

Putting aside for now the gross discourtesy that this bolt from the blue represented to the local council, headteachers, education unions, and parents, there are still many more questions than answers about this murky process and elitist plan.

Firstly, it is a massive insult to suggest that post-16 education providers, whether at schools or further education colleges in Middlesbrough and the surrounding area are incapable of getting our bright, talented youngsters into what are held out as the UK’s best universities.

It’s crassly arrogant simply to assume that we need Eton, whose purpose is to sustain the establishment and the privileged, to deliver high standards of educational attainment in Middlesbrough.

Eton College is inextricably linked with what is wrong with our country.

It serves and perpetuates the elite and the privileged. They have absolutely no knowledge of Middlesbrough or what our challenges or priorities are. They have no relevant educational experience of setting foot outside their precious private world.

Eton has a wholly inappropriate charitable status, as well as a fair share of responsibility for foisting Cameron and Johnson on us, two of the most untrustworthy politicians of our time.

The UK’s gap between the rich and the poor is a disgrace in this, the fifth richest country in the world and that’s down in no small part to the values so carefully nurtured in the privileged private schools of the South East.

The only inhibition on our sixth forms and colleges achieving the results of private schools in the South East is being wantonly starved of resources by successive Tory governments.

The Northern Echo: Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald and Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston

Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald and Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston

Eton’s desire to launch a new college in Middlesbrough would create an institution that would be commandeered by the middle and monied classes, and allow this most elitist of English public schools to put its own inimitable stamp and take credit for students who would succeed anyway.

That institution would add nothing other than to cause an awful lot of damage to our existing providers, including Middlesbrough College, which seemingly would be within a stone’s throw of the proposed new college.

Strikingly, we have already seen a group of principals of local college heads issuing a joint statement to the journal FE Week expressing concerns at the plans.

Signatories to the letter included Stockton Sixth Form, Prior Pursglove Colleges, Middlesbrough College, Hartlepool College, Darlington College, Stockton Riverside College and Redcar and Cleveland College.

Eton have never done anything like this before, so the chances of them successfully being able to demonstrate to any informed observer that they will add value and make a difference to the learning outcomes of our young people are slim in the extreme.

They haven’t a clue about the environment into which they are trespassing. What do they know of our young people, their families, and the challenges they face? Nothing.

As for the land upon which the college is to be sited is concerned, if for one moment the proposers and backers think they are going to be ‘given’ land that has not only been acquired with council taxpayers’ money, but has had the benefit of major infrastructure investment and remediation to date, then they can think again.

That would be tantamount to theft and the people of Middlesbrough won’t stand for it.

Unless Mr Preston has persuaded the Department for Levelling Up and Local Government to drive a coach and horses through due diligence.

After more than a decade of Tory-led government at Westminster, we know beyond all doubt that if you want to get into the establishment then money talks.

Much has been said of private schools’ loss of fee income now that the Russian oligarchs are struggling to meet the fees or rather, they’re not being allowed to make the fees.

Critics of this hairbrained scheme are deemed to be, by the unrelentingly and unbearable optimistic narcissists, somehow unambitious or lacking aspiration. Utter cobblers.

Instead, we must demand equality of opportunity for all our children and for all our people, not just the cherry picking of the talented who are going to go on to do some incredible things in any event.

This ‘Eton outpost’ in Middlesbrough plan is a mad idea and those who are promoting need to give their heads a shake.

We cannot allow the education of our young people to be placed at risk on the altar of a stunt from our mayor for his own political gain, and an elitist experimental attempt at social engineering.

  • Andy McDonald is the Labour MP for Middlesbrough