Saturday, February 23, 2008


Should we Abolish Public schools?

Author of the excellent Austerity Britain, David Kynaston, writing in The Guardian, has a pop at public schools. He talks about meritocracy having its own dangers of creating a ceiling to social mobility based on ability as measured by the education system; an LSE study has shown we are now going backwards and that lower class Britons are now less likely to 'break free of their backgrounds than they would have been a generation earlier'. In the LSE league table of 8 developed countries Britain came 7th in terms of social mobility.

Worse, was the Sutton Trust Report autumn 2007:

This ranked the success of schools, over a five-year period, at getting their pupils into Oxbridge. Top was Westminster school with a staggering 49.9% hit rate. In other words, if you pay your annual boarding fees of £25,956, you have a virtually evens chance of your child making it to Oxbridge - the pathway to the glittering prizes that will almost certainly lie ahead. Altogether, there were 27 private schools in the top 30; 43 in the top 50 and 78 in the top 100. Put another way, the 70th brightest sixth-former at Westminster or Eton is as likely to get a place at Oxbridge as the very brightest sixth-formers at a large comprehensive.

In addition privately educated candidates were five times more likely to be awarded a place at one of the top 20 Russell Group universities. And in today's Guardian we learn that of the 30,000 who achieve 3 As at school, only 176-half a percent- come from those who receive free school meals. It is, in truth, a shocking indictment of a Labour Party dedicated to achieving equality. Kynaston hopes there is an answer:

I sense in Gordon Brown the first prime minister of my lifetime to be wholly driven by the moral imperative of equality of opportunity. It is also clear that New Labour, more than halfway through its third term, needs a fresh, compelling narrative.

I'm sure he's right but also that his dreams are just, well, dreams. Labour has always attracted a slice of its leadership from the private sector from Attlee to Blair and many of them sent their own children to similar schools. Richard Crossman admitted in his diaries that he was opposed to abolition as his own children were attending public schools. But since those days a sea change in attitudes has taken place. I have a number of, (apparently left-wing) friends who educate their kids privately. One claims he does not want to 'let his principles interfere with his childrens' education'. The leftwing taboo about such things seems to have faded into the background and the 'own family' oriented actions of then likes of Blair, Dianne Abbot and others makes it clear private education is one middle class citadel which Labour will never dare to storm.

This comment has been removed by the author.
Can we have a name check on the Bullingdon Club members pictured? The numbers are already in place.
OK Roy, am able to answer your request, the absurdly smug looking poseurs are:(1) Sebastian Grigg, (2) David Cameron, (3) Ralph Perry-Robinson, (4) Ewen Fergusson, (5) Matthew Benson, (6) Sebastian James, (7) Jonathan Ford, (8) Boris Johnson, (9) Harry Eastwood
If you had grammar schools in more than just a few enclaves where the middle classes fought for their retention, you might have a more academically vibrant state sector challenging the private school dominance. But opposition to the idea of a meritocracy is one thing that seems to unite both Labour and the Tories, and grammar schools are an unfortunate reminder to both of the heights to which state education could reach!

Of course I'm biased by the way - I teach in one!
OK GM no denying public schools are better and so were grammas- I went to one- but what about the two thirds who have to go to 'secondary moderns' for the third who go to grammars/ Even 'Two Brains' David Willets could work that out!
I don't deny that's a virtually killer point, but why do we assume that the secondary moderns have to provide a poor education? If the grammars' advantage is in their selection, why not up the funding for the sec mods to allow them to specialise elsewhere, and to give them some of the so-called advantages of the private sector - eg facilities, small classes etc. Just a thought.

By the way, I see that the Kynaston article has generated a huge number of comments! Still a live issue it seems.
Kynaston says it should be a live issue! Re your point, if comps got the right funding, maybe they couild rival thje perfromance of of the private sector but that ain't gonna happen either.
Born 1946; illigitimate war baby; mixed race, American GI dad Scottish mother. Lived in a small council estate in Glasgow, grandfather steel worker also mixed race background, grandmother pure Scottish. Passing 11+ I attended a Senior secondary = English Grammer. Went on to Glasgow University at no cost to myself or family. Married another Scot from a similar poor background although pure Scots with no racial complications. We made a great life for ourselves and children and, now widowed, I have a lovely home in Kent which our children will inherit for my grandchildren. Does anyone really think a child born into similar circumstances would have the same opportunity? In those days however the 'respectable working class' had a real reverance for education as the way forward and we both grew up loving books. It would seem that this class has vanished, they now live a normal middle class life and no one with a modicum of ambition aspires to live in a council estate, the norm when I was young. It seems to me we have gone backwards and the ladder to improvement, ie the Grammer school open to all that had ability, has been kicked away. The joke being that those responsible have almost all been either privately educated, Blair et al, or through selective State selection, Brown et al. Since they achieved so much why on earth do they want to deny the advantages to others. When my husband died suddenly I gave an endowment to our university in gratitude for what we received. In the process I learned that the exams we sat had been diluted from four subjects to three; no compulsary areas; and much reduced 'sudden death' finals. They really prepared you for coping with stress and I enjoyed the pressure. I have come to despise hypocritical politicians and am very glad I grew up when I did when idealism and aspiration were the building blocks of society. My daughter is an Oxford graduate and my son an IT consultant. It is not money, there was far less then, it is the growth of an underclass who have neither aspiration or any idea of being self sufficient since the 'State' supports them from cradle to grave. This was never the aim of the welfare state the ideals, being constant improvement for all, are now deeply corrupted. I have no answers that are palatable to our politically correct elites but sooner or later some must be found as we are already on the road to a vastly unequal society with no longer any way out. A political elite; a vast middle class who are being robbed blind with taxes and a functionally illiterate underclass generation who will neither work nor want. They can aford to have children without a thought as the 'State' will provide as can the elites who have no need of the State. The majority middle class cannot afford to have more than two at most, thus shades of Nazi Germany, we have ensured that only the very poor or very rich can afford children and our best and brightest are voting with their feet and emigrating.
Thanks for this epic comment- submitted in the small hours I note. I agree with a lot of this, having been born in the same year as you and having attended a grammar school. I agree that the working class people I knew in my Shropshire village were in no doubt that study and training were the levators to success. But there were some who felt this 'is not for me' and regarded study as a kind of eccentric indulgence for 'other' kinds of folk.

The sad thing is that the latter seem to have won the argument in that the underclass- and I do believe we have one- seem not to take any self improvement seriously and have adopted a scale of values which enthrones the self and despises the collective.

The extent to which welfare handouts has facilitated this I'm not sure about but because some exploit benefits I'm not at all sure the majority who do not should be punished.

You seem to end on a very depressive note which is sad. You've cledarly had a very productive and successful life and should be making the most of your upcoming 63rd year should you not?
"OK GM no denying public schools are better and so were grammas- I went to one- but what about the two thirds who have to go to 'secondary moderns' for the third who go to grammars/ Even 'Two Brains' David Willets could work that out!"

I find it incomprehensible that the solution to resolving the lower standards of the "secondary moderns" is to scrap the grammar schools. Surely the secondary moderns should have been improved in their own right.

Grammar schools provided not only excellent education but also increased social mobility - not that the latter seems to bother new labour.

There is almost certainly a case for splitting the 'secondary modern' students so that there is far more attention to students with special needs.

The 'one size fits all' approach to education fails far too many at both ends of the spectrum.

As for Oxbridge then why doesn't the government mandate that they take a predetermined percentage from the state sector. (Although Sir Humphrey may well have a hissy fit!!).
Andy W
Upgrading secondary moderns would cost a huge amount of money- public schools pay about £10,000 per pupil while state schools get only about £3000. I can't see any government forking out that much cash. And even if it did, there is no guarantee the cultural deficits of poorer pupils would not cause their schools to be inferior anyway. It's not so much the schools which cause the gap- it's social background: a child from a middle class background- books, wide interests, discussion and debate- is so much better off than a child from a poorer background- TV, no encouragement of study etc.
I grew up in an area which still has secondary moderns (rebranded as 'high schools') and grammars. My mother, the archetypal grammar school girl (daughter of a bus driver) argues vehemently that they are great social equalisers because otherwise selection would be by postcode; having the grammars gives the chance for poor bright kids from to thrive in an academic environment whilst ensuring the stupid rich also get an appropriate education.

But I read that in a different grammar school area, parents spend small fortunes in tutors to hothouse their kids into grammar schools.

I live in South London and I know a great many of black and Asian parents who send their children to fee-paying schools. Boys in particular.They believe that their children, sons in particular will be discriminated against by staff; and they fear them getting in with the wrong crowd.

My instinct is to oppose public schools and 11-plus selection, but neither would solve the problem of hidden selection; also, I think that comprehensives that believe in entirely mixed-ability teaching are not desirable. (But I don't claim any expertise).

I just feel that there ought to be a national consistency. There's no point abolishing public schools yet maintaining selective schools, including selection by religion. And yet, I also believe in state funding for gifted children - it seems that everyone is talking about the Brit school for performing arts - so I am not sure why I oppose them for academically gifted.
Does anyone know whether the unnumbered one is the crim Guppy?
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