Sunday, December 16, 2007

Education and social mobility

Paul Lindford has written an interesting and thought provoking piece for Liberal Conspiracy about Labour's failure to increase social mobility and close the gap in terms of inequality. Paul links to the recent report by the Sutton Trust about the differences in educational attainment between pupils from different socio-economic backgrounds.

I do think we need some perspective when we discuss education and how it has impacted on social mobility. In 2007 well over half of all 15-16 year olds in maintained schools achieved five or more ‘higher passes’ at the end of compulsory schooling. This is the hurdle set in the past for only those attending grammar schools, one which many, even of that selected minority, failed to surmount. For example:


In 1970, 47% of pupils left secondary school with no qualifications at all; in 2006 that figure was down to 4%.
Between 1969 and 2006 the percentage of 16-18 year olds in full time education rose from 25.6 to 80.3.
In 1972 just 14% of under-21 year olds entered higher education, in 2005 42% entered.


Over a third of the age group entering higher education is an aim which would have seemed impossibly ambitious a generation ago. Given that expenditure on education did not increase in real terms between the mid-1970s and the late-1990s this remarkable increase in productivity and progress (as measured by qualifications) is attributable, in large part, to the impact of the comprehensive system of schooling.

For me a real barrier to increased social mobility is the fact the continued popularity of private schools. In fairness it is not unreasonable that any parent should want their child to do as well at school and in life as they have done themselves, often they want them to do better. In a free society if some parents choose to secure advantage and privilege by sending their children to elite schools there is little the state can do about it.

There are though, clear consequences for social mobility that many “left leaning” (and possibly Liberal Conspiracy contributors) parents often choose to ignore. British public schools have always been a production line for the class system. They employ some of the best-qualified teachers, with as many as two-thirds educated in the top 20 British universities. They can - and do - raise their fees steadily, they select their pupils, have a growing endowment income from their benefactors and some of the most impressive sporting and extra-curricular activities.
What’s more they now recruit from a middle-class obsessed by perceived educational and social advantage. Parents who are willing to take the bold decision to become part of the problem, rather than seeking to be part of the solution. I often hear some of my friends and “comrades” attempting to ease their conscience by announcing that the local comprehensive school is simply not good enough and justify their decision to go private in the name of parental responsibility.
It is also the case that because so many of these parents work in the media (a few are in government) there is little political mileage in calling for the reform of private schools and more equal access to universities.

I think one of the main problems is that those who do have influence, those who really do have a “voice” in our society have such a high stake in the current order that they will seek to mobilise and organise in order protect it.

The sad truth is that when middle-class parents abandon the state sector in favour of the private, it is conservative and not progressive politics that triumphs.

13 comments:

ThunderDragon said...

There is little the State can - or SHOULD - do about parents sending their kids to private schools. It is their RIGHT to send their children to whatever school they wish.

They are simply doing what is best for their children. "Left leaning" people who do it, however, are just being hypocrites if they do it.

Phil A said...

The stats are much less compelling when you consider the fact that you are not really comparing like for like. What’s the use in spending a small fortune and extra years getting a degree, if all it gets you is the same sort of job you could have got with some good ‘O’ Levels and an ‘A’Level, in the late 60s?

As for your ‘left school with no qualifications’ - No many of them went on to get apprenticeships and train up to a useful and well paid trade.

As for “For me a real barrier to increased social mobility is the fact the continued popularity of private schools”.

It’s only a barrier because those who hate such a system for ideological reasons have effectively destroyed the prospect of gifted ‘working class’ students getting their chance to benefit from such a system - by effectively removing any real chance of scholarships of bursaries. Thus helping stifle social mobility.

JRD168 said...

One of Labour's great early successes was getting rid of the despicable "asissted places" scheme, which effectively gave money to the schools of the rich, out of the taxes of the poor. I'm with Mike on this one, but I'm also afraid it's never going to happen.

Phil A said...

JRD, So then - Is it God, or rather Marx:-) forbid anyone should be able to better themselves under Labour? What price social mobility then?

Unpremeditated said...

I'm with you on this one, Mike. As to phil's point about comparing like with like, I agree with him that a media studies degree is probably far less use than an apprenticeship, but the death of apprenticeships has nothing to do with the topic at hand (comprehensive schooling and the spread of university education) and everything to do with the decline of manufacturing industry in the UK.

JRD168 said...

I fear a long discussion if I get too involved with this one! To answer Phil's point briefly though, access to Private Schools through the assisted places scheme never made any measurable diference to social mobility. Far better to improve the chances of the many, by improving the schools of the many, not the few. Comprehensive education is the only way to improve the chances of the many. It cannot be done by simply hanging on to the coattails of the rich.

Phil A said...

JRD, As you note, we have discussed this. We clearly want to achieve much the same result but differ on the means.

You consider private, or grammar schools, to be part of the problem. I consider the comprehensive system as it currently exists a failed experiment and not that at lest Grammar schools do seem to provide their pupils with what it says on the tin.

I think you are more doctrinal on the whole subject and appear to still believe the state is the ideal manager of the nation’s educational system. I consider State to be provenly incapable of doing so.

I strongly believe in individual choice.

ThunderDragon said...

Comprehensive education ash failed miserably. It has been measured and found wanting. It sure as hell doesn't "improve" schools for the many, but it does ruin schools for the intelligent. That is a FACT.

By paying for their own children's education, the rich who also pay taxes into education, are not removing that money from the state's purse, thus making it available for the state to sue to improve state education.

The reason the comprehensive system has failed is because it has been, and is, far too centrally ran and controlled. Education is done best when children of similar abilities work in groups together, as they learn at roughly the same speed, and push each other on.

Some children need more help than others - that is a fact. And if they are are lumped together, they don't get it. And on the other side of the coin, some are far faster than the average. If they are separated, everyone wins. if they are kept together like the comprehensive system demands, everyone loses. Especially the country.

If rich people WANT to pay for their children to go elsewhere, let them. it means more money to be spent on the others.

Phil A said...

Re ThunderDragon’s: ”If rich people WANT to pay for their children to go elsewhere, let them. It means more money to be spent on the others.”

Absolutely! It surely means more financial resources being ploughed into the system for the rest (apparently only to be regrettably wasted)- Still they are effectively paying twice.

Phil A said...

Re ThunderDragon’s: ”If rich people WANT to pay for their children to go elsewhere, let them. It means more money to be spent on the others.”

Absolutely! It surely means more financial resources being ploughed into the system for the rest (apparently only to be regrettably wasted)- Still they are effectively paying twice.

JRD168 said...

Thunderdragon said:

"Comprehensive education ash failed miserably. It has been measured and found wanting. It sure as hell doesn't "improve" schools for the many, but it does ruin schools for the intelligent. That is a FACT"

Well if it's in capital letters it must be true! Any facts and figures to back that up with I wonder?

Phil's arguments are usually better than that. I know we want the same thing, and he is correct in saying that I think the state is the best way of ensuring it happens. Whether that makes me doctrinaire or not, i don't know. I just call it as i see it after several years teaching in comprehensive schools.

Phil A said...

JRD,Re:”Phil’s arguments are usually better than that”. Better than what exactly? Not sure where I have fallen down here. Please explain how those who can afford it paying twice can not mean more financial resources in the system?

Surely this is a classic case of ‘from each according to their means’? ;-)

Re the comprehensive system. I had a number of years actually having to endure the system - so I know full well what it is like for the inmates. What qualifications and education I have I aquired largely despite the system, or outside it. I like to flatter myself I have managed to make up for it, I know it was detrimental to my education.

I think you do tend to lock yourself into doctrine. I believe my thoughts in this area are more pragmatic and practical, whilst yours seem to owe maybe more than they should to political theory, possibly binding your, otherwise, formidable reason.

JRD168 said...

Sorry Phil, not your arguments - but Thunderdragon's SHOUTING without anything to back it up!

Thanks for the kind comments about my reasoning skills! I guess everyone is a product of their experience, mine involve generally positive views of comprehensive education (I wouldn't work anywhere else!). I get frustrated at the negative spin often put on state education. If your background is different, it may go someway to explaining the difference in our views?