Saturday, October 20, 2007

The middle class closed shop

Today's Guardian makes depressing reading for anyone who supports a progressive agenda in British politics. The Guardian/ICM poll suggests that Britain remains a nation that is still dominated by class division. Of those questioned:

89% said they think people are still judged by their class - with almost half saying that it still counts for "a lot".
8% thought that class does not matter at all in shaping the way people are seen.
55% of people said that class, not ability, greatly affects the way they are seen.

The sad reality is that social mobility is decreasing in Britain today, in fact the British middle classes are operating what is, in effect, a closed shop. Let me give you an example: our top universities are still mainly the preserve of a rich, well-connected elite. I well remember the furore a few years ago when Bristol University was accused of gross discrimination and unfairness - spurred on by several influential columnists and leader writers - for introducing a 'fairer' criterion for admissions that would benefit pupils from poorer backgrounds. Often the real reasons why many left leaning journalists and politicians end up sending their sons and daughters to fee-paying schools are not based on the raw results of the local state schools but on a desire to ensure that their child has access to what the local comprehensive cannot provide: privilege, advantage and the opportunity to network. British public schools have always been a production line of the class system. They employ some of the best-qualified teachers. These schools can raise their fees steadily, select their pupils, enjoy a growing endowment income from their benefactors and offer some of the most impressive sporting and extracurricular activities. What is more, they recruit from a middle class obsessed by perceived educational and social advantage, a middle class that talks left but all too often acts right.


ThunderDragon said...

Define "fair". Does that mean basing it on actual results? If so, I think all university admissions are fair. they're not going to select stupid public school students over intelligent state school students. Universities want the best students they can get - regardless of background. If you think they don't you are deluded.

The reason that kids who go to public schools get better results is because the public school system works better. The comprehensive system is simply flawed. It doesn't encourage excellence, but mediocrity. I went to a state school. I KNOW that it does. And my school was the "good" school in the area.

I'm not convinced in the slightest that it is because the "best" teachers go to public schools, but because the schools exercise far better control over and discipline within the kids. They also expect more from the kids than you ever get in the state system. The simple quality of the teaching is little different; the engagement of the children with it is.

Sen. Peter Higham Paul said...

How do reconcile a "progressive" agenda, Mike, with the division of England into RDAs?

JRD168 said...

Ooh. Should I rise to the "best" teachers work in public schools comment??

Phil A said...

Personally I think ‘class’ makes very little difference these days. What marks people out more is skills, knowledge, social skills, empathy, intelligence, consideration for others, politeness, honesty, etc. That to me is not a matter of class, in the sense of social classes.

I do however agree that upward social mobility, that is the ability to improve one’s lot, has decreased in the last decade or so.