Lampl long ago abandoned hope that he could win over new Labour. But would the Conservatives... buy his vision? Don't underestimate Lampl's talent for making the political weather. He's done it ever since he returned to his native Britain from the US in the mid-1990s. Unknown, then, he has since become the confidant of cabinet ministers and one of the most influential figures in British education.
From a profile of Sir Peter Lampl, an ex-grammar school boy committed to transforming the education system. I suppose this next quote makes the Sutton Trust founder another member of the "chippy" set:
Above all, he has a very American belief in meritocracy. "When I came back from the States," he recalls, "I went to a reunion at Reigate and discovered that it was now all fee-paying. I went to dinner at my old college, Corpus Christi, which used to have lots of ordinary Welsh kids, many of them my best friends. I was told they weren't coming through any more."
That was what led him to his first big educational venture. The ancient universities had traditionally waited for applicants to come to them, but Lampl bankrolled an Oxford summer school, with 64 of the brightest from state schools that had never previously sent anybody there. As one ally in the project put it, "he kept out the Volvo crowd" and insisted that none of the students' parents should be university graduates or even professional people. "They had been terrified of Oxford," Lampl recalls, "and this demystified it for them. Sixteen of them got places. I said to myself: boy, this is really working."
One footnote: I interviewed Lampl some years ago, when he was on the verge, as I recall, of putting his young children through school. His wife wanted them to go private, he hoped to use the state system. It sounds as if his wife won the argument:
He confesses, unsurprisingly, that all his three children attend fee-charging schools. "Everyone in my street sends their kids to independent schools. We'd be doing something very different otherwise. I'd love to send my kids to a socially diverse school, but such a thing is incredibly difficult to find."
Hypocrisy? No, sounds to me more like realism.