I’ve faced more than my fair share of rejection. Getting sacked for union activities on the ships. Losing in two Labour deputy leadership races. The Tories beating us in eight general elections.
As I discovered, the sourness of defeat only makes victory taste even sweeter.
But there is a bitterness that still consumes me. That to this day still makes me feel inferior. Failing my 11-plus to go to grammar school.
My dad said he’d buy a bike for me and my brother Ray if we passed it. Ray got the bike. I got a daily 16-mile bus ride to a secondary modern in Ellesmere Port.
I left school with no qualifications except an A+ in resentment.
You could say it drove me on. But I think of the others who were told they weren’t good at such a young age. We weren’t snowflakes. We were kids with hopes and dreams who just weren’t stretched enough.
Many of us were late bloomers. But the system was rigged against us. After going to sea to make my mum proud, I started to wonder how I could get back into education.
There was a place I heard you go to in Oxford where people without qualifications could study for a diploma to get them into university. It was called Ruskin College.
I wanted to be a trade union official but I knew that the local Tory education authority would never dream of funding me to go to Ruskin. So I lied and said I wanted to be a teacher. I got the funding and the rest is history.
Grammar schools encapsulate everything that is wrong with Britain. A privileged few helped at the expense of the many.
They don’t boost social mobility. The respected education charity the Sutton Trust found grammar schools today have only three per cent of pupils on free meals – the measure of children from poor backgrounds. That’s six times lower than comprehensives in the same area. What’s more, 13 per cent of grammar pupils come from independent schools.
That’s why I was glad when our Labour Government banned new grammars from opening. Instead we ploughed money and resources into rebuilding our crumbling primaries and secondaries, doubled funding per pupil and employed 36,000 more teachers and a quarter of a million teaching assistants.
Studies have shown that if you want to boost social mobility – help poorer kids do better – then doing it at 11 is too late. That’s why we introduced more than 3,600 Sure Start Centres to offer free or cheap childcare for three million toddlers.
What did the Tories do? They cut funding for Sure Start , forcing 1,000 centres to close and per child funding for early years is on the decline.
Now we hear per-pupil school funding will go down for the first time in two decades. Every school will suffer from having to find a total of £3billion in savings. Except the 163 remaining grammar schools. They’ll share a pot of £200million to help them expand.
Head teachers are now having to make the choice between cutting GCSEs, reducing the week to four days or even turning off the heating.
So where has all the money gone? Well firstly, the Tories are giving away a total of £70billion in tax cuts for corporates and millionaires.
Secondly, they put money into opening free schools, many in areas with excess places. The Tories promised to build over 300 free schools by 2015 at a cost of £900m. The National Audit Office revealed it actually cost £1.8bn.
What’s Theresa May’s response? To lift the ban on new grammars and spend more than £320m on free schools, when we need to spend £6.7bn on bringing our existing schools up to scratch.
Our schools are in crisis. GCSE pass rates are going down, class sizes are getting bigger and a third of teachers who joined in 2010 were so demoralised they left by 2015.
Once again the Tories are helping a privileged few. And it’s your children and grandchildren who will suffer to subsidise them.