When are we going to stop blaming private schools, universities and ‘elitism’ for the failures of state education? | James Delingpole

11th August 2009

“State school pupils put off applying for Oxford and Cambridge because their teachers are reluctant to promote elitism,” claims the latest report from the achingly worthy Sutton Trust.

Hmm, yes. I’m sure there’s the odd case where this is quite possibly true. And I expect if you went looking hard enough among Britain’s veritable cornucopia of sink comprehensives, you might also manage to trawl up all sorts of other similarly compelling excuses as to why so relatively-few State-educated kids are getting into the top flight universities.

For example: pathological fear of teddy bears (especially when clutched by fey blond, aristocrats in cricket sweaters); hatred of punts, Pimms, walled gardens or dining halls that look like they come out of a Harry Potter film; discomfort with writing more than two essays a term; fear of learning; and, of course, climate change (the better universities – sorry Edinburgh, York and Durham no offence intended – being generally in the South which, as we know, will be roughly the temperature of the Central Sahara by the time this year’s school leavers sit their finals).

That’s just a few suggestions to be going on with. I’m sure, with a bit of application, the “researchers” at the Sutton Trust will be able to come up with plenty more. After all, they do seem to have a rare skill for overlooking the stunningly obvious, viz, that there is one dominating, supreme and utterly overwhelming reason as to why our posh universities are stuffed to the gills with privately educated kids: because privately-educated kids (and those lucky enough to have got into a grammar that hasn’t yet been closed) are about the only ones left in the country with sufficient academic ability to cope with a university degree course.

Organisations like the Sutton Trust which pretend otherwise are doing no favours to the underprivileged kids whose cause they claim to be championing. They are merely furthering this government’s despicable class war agenda. As Fraser Nelson puts it on a characteristically insightful blog over at Spectator Coffee House:

“The Sutton Trust is absolutely correct to point to social segregation as being one of the biggest problems in Britain today – but the problem lies with the schools, not the universities. The suggestion that snobbish admissions tutors are somehow to blame does the working class no favours by deflecting attention from the real problem.”

Nelson includes a graph showing the extent to which the state education system has been run down and dumbed down during twelve years of New Labour maladminstration (”education education education”: remember that one? How we laughed. How we’re not laughing now). It shows the percentage of candidates achieving three or more A grades at A level in 2007/08. For Independent schools the figure is 30.9; for selective schools 25.8; for comprehensive schools 7.7. This is disgraceful – but not for the reasons wearisomely advanced by the liberal left.

As Nelson argues, the growing state/private divide has little to do with money:

“Pouring money into the state schools has not been the solution – and there are now academic studies showing a surprisingly weak link between cash and outcome. And those who say “it’s all about money” should ask why  grammars do almost as well as the independents. It is the style, culture and ethos of a school that makes the difference.”

Well indeed. Quite the most terrrifying part of Nelson’s article, though, is the commenter below who thinks the solution to the problem is to ban all private schools. That way, this Stalinist charmer argues, all the pushy middle-class parents so good at steering their darling ones’ posho independent schools in the right direction would suddenly be forced to do the same for their neighbourhood state schools.

Quoi? Has this creature ever found himself in the position of trying to influence a state school’s curriculum, behaviour code, academic standards or policy in any area whatsoever? I think not, for if he had he would realise that the state sector could barely give a monkey’s what parents think, however pushy or articulate they may be. State schools take their lead from the government, from the local authorities, from the educational training colleges which fill their teachers’ heads with leftist bilge, from the unions, from the teachers – from anyone indeed but the children and parents whose interests they are supposed to serve.

Our dismal education system needs root and branch reform. We all know that. We also know that it is THE reason for the decline in social mobility which has, inevitably, made Britain unhappier, more resentful, and more bitterly divided. But until we have the intellectual honesty to address how this came about, we are not going to be able to resolve the problem.

Whether it’s the loathsome Peter Mandelson playing his class war politics (skewered here by Melanie Phillips) or the nice but misguided Sutton Trust coming up with its distracting thesis about “anti-elitist” state school teachers, we must resist with all our might those voices on the liberal-left trying to tell us that the problem with education is mainly down to graspy middle class people grabbing more than their fair share.

This is eyewash. The reason our state schools are in a mess is because of the “progressive” policies imposed upon them by generations of liberal-leftist educational theorists and government apparatchiks. The way to extract them from this mess is to make them as free as possible from State meddling, and to give parents the opportunity to reject those schools which are failing their kids and to choose schools which serve their needs well.

Punishing private schools and universities for the ideological bankruptcy of the “progressive” values which permeate our failing state education is not just morally and intellectually wrong. It’s cultural suicide.

Related posts:

  1. Free Schools: the stake in the heart of the Progressive vampire
  2. What Labour has done to our education system is criminal – as this heart-rending story shows
  3. Clarkson, the Baronet’s granddaughter and a pile of poo
  4. Why would anyone want to vote Tory? (Pt 1)


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