Education and Equality Part 2.

The Bullingdon Club

In Part 1 of this article my conclusion was that comprehensive schools had hurt social mobility because middle-class parents were deserting state education and sending their kids into some form of private education. I didn’t want to give the impression that’s all well in our comprehensive schools, it’s just that there may be reasons other than the schools themselves that act as break on working class and lower middle class kids reaching the top jobs.

At this point I would like to dedicate just one paragraph to Oxbridge, the Oxford and Cambridge Universities. There can be little doubt that their recruitment policies have a lot to do with the narrowing of opportunity for working class kids to break into the world of senior civil service and corporate positions. This has definitely got worse, even though there is evidence that kids from the state schools tend to do better in university even though their A-Level grades may not be as good. There has to be a suspicion when we look at the likes of the government front bench that these universities give advantages to those in the same social class as most of the university teaching and administration staff. Governments must use the financial power they possess over the universities to bring them onboard a movement to widen the range of pupils they recruit.

OK, having got that out of the way, let’s look at some of the other criticisms of state education I started Part 1 with.

Kids leave school without being able to read and write and having poor arithmetic skills. European immigrants are preferred by employers to British kids. Teachers with their gold-plated pensions and log summer holidays still can’t weed out the mediocre, the poor and the just plain bad from their profession.

So for first part about kids not getting a good education from the state schools, let’s look deeper at this. I have a feeling if I wanted to go look at statistics I could find some supporting this idea as well as some showing the exact opposite. Instead I will use empirical data collected in a very limited sample by myself just by talking with kids in or connected to my family who were educated in comprehensive schools.

Now these kids range from one who is now a surgeon to another more recent school-leaver who has an ‘apprenticeship’ in McDonalds. The first thing that strikes me is that by the time they reached their mid-teens, how much smarter they are than I was at that age. And I have to say, not only smarter, but more mature, which I’m not sure is such a good thing. I just can’t see this education failure that gets trotted out so regularly about the lack of reading and arithmetic skills. Is it really worse than it was 50 years ago? I doubt it. There will always be some who struggle, and also some badly led schools or schools in areas with their own particular problems, but the overall quality of the kids to me is good. My thoughts on the early maturing will come a bit later.

Now the second part of the moan is about the quality of teachers. Now here I have some sympathy with the complaints. The teaching profession is too important to allow poor and mediocre teachers to stay in it. Somehow the profession has to weed out those that will do the kids they are teaching no good. I don’t ask that all teachers have a vocation, just that those who bring nothing to the teacher’s desk be moved on. The old saying that ‘those who can, do, while those who can’t, teach’ should not be accepted. We have moved on so far in just my lifetime. Sadistic behaviour by teachers is no longer accepted as it once was. So let’s have a proper measurement of teachers ability.

It seems that teachers giving up a Saturday to organize sports or cultural visits are far rarer than it was the days of much less affluence. Back then it was part of the trade-off against pensions and long holidays. It should still be so. I love the idea of teaching assistants and smaller classes, but this isn’t an excuse keeping poor or unenthusiastic teachers.

So having already got a bit controversial with teachers I will continue in this way with some suggestions on where I think improvements could be made. I will accept that it’s very possible I don’t know what I’m talking about, but there’s a comments section if you get real upset.

Comprehensive Schools

1/ They are generally just too big. I’m sure reasons can be given for the economics of scale, but it shouldn’t be a surprise the private schools which are doing better are usually smaller. These giant schools are industrialising education, which doesn’t seem to be the answer.

2/ Maybe we should look at whether coeducational education is really the right way to go. I was in a boys’ only school and always wished at the time it wasn’t so, but with so much information out there that boys and girls develop at different speeds this could be hurting our youth in all sort of ways. My dislike of kids maturing so much faster might be because of the media, but also I suspect that both sexes have less pressure on getting through adolescence when being taught by and with their own sex.

Now still connected with above a thought I’m sure I will be shot down in flames for. I come from a generation where to be gay was very unusual. At my secondary boys school I cannot remember anyone either being gay or being bullied for being effeminate. It really didn’t cross our minds that anyone was. Yes, I know there would have been a percentage who were hiding their sexuality. So, do coeducational classes with early maturing girls force boys to make decisions on sexual orientation far too early? I do wonder about this.

3/ We read about teachers losing control of the pupils in these large schools. If discipline and violent reactions from pupils or parents are a real problem then we should look abroad for answers. We really don’t need corporal punishment if we can do it another way. It may be that we should have some form of police in the schools as they have in the US. The ultimate threat against violent behaviour could be an afternoon down the local police station.

Private Schools

1/ If private schooling is part of the reason why state school students have less opportunities then we should take whatever actions are necessary to even up the playing field. This may well be one of those times that we have to introduce some form of positive discrimination. Quotas on university entrance could reverse the middle-class fleeing to private education.

2/ It’s pretty hard to see why schools like Eton are given charitable status. Private education isn’t charitable, it’s usually an attempt to give children a leg up with money rather than with natural aptitude.

I had better stop here. Here’s it all in one sentence.

I would like smaller non-coed comprehensive schools, better teacher testing and positive discrimination used in university entrance.

  • David Awallace

    Labour’s term in office certainly put social mobility into decline and increased in equality, that is for sure.

    I don’t know what policy it was that did it exactly, but they certainly did it. I would not therefore trust Labour or any Labour politico to fix the problem, Labour are part of the problem, not the solution.

  • David Awallace

    Labour’s term in office certainly put social mobility into decline and increased in equality, that is for sure.

    I don’t know what policy it was that did it exactly, but they certainly did it. I would not therefore trust Labour or any Labour politico to fix the problem, Labour are part of the problem, not the solution.

  • Anonymous

    An interesting and thoughtful article, and no mention of Australian press barons. 

    I agree with you that schools are getting too large. When I was at school 20 years ago  1000 pupil comprehensives were rare, now that is small. The argument that big schools can have better facilities is not sufficient. A school with a sense of community where the head knows all the pupils and they know each other is more important than having the latest digital blackboards. If there are certain expensive facilities that really are needed then they can be shared between several schools (minibuses aren’t that expensive).

    On single sex education again I have sympathy. My co-ed comprehensive was formed from the local girls grammar and secondary modern. A level physics was a male only preserve. The excellent teacher who had come from the girls grammar blamed the mixed classes. On their own teenage girls were happy to do what interested them, in a mixed environment they felt uncomfortable leaving their assigned gender roles. Now modern girls may be different but teenagers spend lots of time worrying about how the opposite sex see them. The less distractions the better for study. Against that you comment on how confident they are. The mixing co-ed education gives in almost certainly part of that so you have to make a judgement.

    Teacher tenure and testing. Whole hearted agreement. But then apart from teacher unions I think everyone agrees with you.

    Unsurprisingly I’m not with you on positive discrimination. No only is the evidence unclear that comprehensive pupils do better at university (they are far more likely to drop out so will get lost in the final degree figures) but if you give quotas for state school pupils how will you stop the middle classes educating Johnny up to Year 11 in private schools then going to a state 6th form college, topping up with private tutors such as happens in South Korea?

    I think though all in all you are making the case for Free Schools. These are smaller, can be single sex and can  fire under performing teachers. I’ll take your Tory Party membership application now.

  • Anonymous
  • LesAbbey

    Interesting that Clegg also seems to think there should be some type of positive discrimination on A-level results in entrance to universities.

    The representative of the public school heads denounced such talk by Clegg as ‘communisim’;-)