Saturday, June 17, 2006

 

Public school educated footballers and glamour models: what next?



Yesterday the Guardian published lists of well known people educated respectively in the state and private sectors. Today Peter Wilbycontributes an interesting article on social mobility. He uses the fact that over half of our nation's leading columnists were educated at public schools to highlight the fact that social mobility-which boomed after the war- has virtually dried up. The reasons for this are that: the explosion of middle-class jobs made more berths available to potential arrivals from the lower tiers; inequalities narrowed up to the point Thatcher tore everything up in the eighties; and public schools were slow to realise that they needed to improve their A level scores.

Once these conditions were removed it was game over: the 7 per cent of the privately educated easily beat the over 90 per cent of state educated children in pursuit of life's glittering prizes. Most of the powerful professions- the civil service, the law, company directors, the military, MPs, the judiciary and now, we learn journalists, have enjoyed the massive benefits of a superior private education. What is worse, says Wilby, is that this meritocratic elite is unrepentant about their disproportionate degree of success, see nothing wrong in accepting hugely disproportionate rewards; and is intent on securing future positions in the various elites for their own children. What I find surprising is the number of privately educated people in professions one would not have imagined ever requiring such provenances. For example: Frank Lampard(pictured-he even has a GCSE in Latin I understand), soccer player, Lawrence Dallaglio, rugby player, Chris Martin, pop singer, Noel Edmonds, downmarket TV presenter(together with Davina McCall and Johnny Vaughn) and Jodie Marsh(OK, all this was just an excuse to post her picture), the glamour model (who improbably turns out to have three A levels from her private school).

Wilby mentions how important confidence is in achieving success and this strikes me as a key factor. Alan Johnson went to a grammar school but left without going further- though he made up for it later as some, though always a small percentage, do. I recall from my rural upbringing in Shropshire that six of us passed the 11 plus to go to the grammar school yet I was the only one who went on to university. I remember competing hard with the very clever boy who sat next to me in primary school who also passed but who returned to farming when aged 16. From what I recall he made a very good farmer but of his possible potential as say, an engineer,we'll never know. Maybe it was my teacher mother-who had ben to training college in the thirties- gave me the idea that further study was something worthwhile aiming at. But there is a serious social problem here: despite increasing numbers at university, there are huge reserves of ability being wasted, languishing untapped in the state sector; while the vital arteries of social mobility and renewal are hardening into sclerosis. For an interesting view of inequality in USA see here.

Comments:
My experience of public schooling is limited to a debating weekend at Oakham School about five years ago. You're certainly right to identify confidence as the overriding factor underpinning public-schools' results. The expectation of success at Oakham was the key difference between that school and my middling comprehensive, which always seemed to accept mundanity.

It's important not to view public schools as unfair, depriving the less fortunate of future success. Rather, the state sector can learn a lot from public schools, but it would also do well to avoid the snobbishness and, more particularly, cliquishness which infested Oakham.
 
The Sutton Trust reserach has found that more than half (54 per cent) of Britain's most influential journalists - editors, columnists, presenters - come from the seven per cent of the population who attended fee-charging schools.

They also found that a third of MPs,the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition. So do seven out of ten barristers in top chambers. Britain is still governed by a privately educated elite.

As Francis Beckett reports in this week's New Statesman, many national newspapers see training as the responsibility of the future employee and so offer unpaid internships open only to those who have the means to keep themselves!
 
Generally I agree with you, but we should be careful about making the state/private distinction so crude. Scholarships exist for private schools (there aren't many, admittedly), and some state schools are very good, particularly in leafy suburbs.

Impressive photos on Flickr, by the way.
 
Sam
I agree the dichotomy should not be distorted as some state schools are terriffic.
 
"What I find surprising is the number of privately educated people in professions one would not have imagined ever requiring such provenances" - just a small point, but I would argue that this is what makes our society so vibrant; we we may not require Alevels or latin to play football, but just because Frank may have taken them, he is still entitled to a career in other fields.

Reading the economist article on Saturday morning, I was interested at how the American Dream, which promises opportunity to all, has ended up creating the developed world's worst income inequality, yet the americans do not care. The class divide, however prounounced mathematically (gini etc), is still much more evident in Britain despite what the statistics say. The problem is, we are less of a merit society and slighty more nepotistic than the USA. But then scholarships are an integral part of American education. Maybe therein lies the answer?
 
Matt
Fair point re Lampard et.al. with which I agree though I'm not sure relying on scholarships offers so solid a foundation to iron out such massive inequalities. Moreover, that degree of inequality has been shown to be highly correlated with high crime. I'm sure we are a healthier society than the US's but that's not saying we can't improve substantially.
 
Matt
Inequality does not necessarily lead to a lack of social mobility, though. While a hypothetical child may be born into a very poor family, good education and high aspirations could enable him/her to transcend poverty.

What I found most striking about "The Economist" article was the massive increase in the wealth of the very, very rich (top 0.1%), especially in relation to the middling growth in wages of the bulk of society since the 1980s. This, surely, is not economically expedient, never mind the social ills which we presume would result.
 
No, inequality need not negate social mobility: Bill Clinton rose from extremely humble circumstances to become US president, as did others like Richard Nixon. And in the UK there have been quite a few examples of working class permanent secretaries plus Cabinet ministers who failed their 11+ e.g. John Prescott. Even senior Guardian columnist, Polly Toynbee failed her 11+ too.
 
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