Social Mobility

Newsnight had a debate between the Tories' Theresa May and Labour's Liam Byrne about the current vogue issue of social mobility. Kirsty Wark was as efficient in exposing the frailties of both as Paxman would have been. May, grammar school educated herself,  is nonetheless stuck with the useless Tory line that they will not look at the re-introduction of selection, while Byrne was hooked on the many hypocrisies of the Labour position, not least their ambiguous attitude towards private schools.

Young people today are apparently less socially mobile than they were in the 1950s. Now let's see - what started to be abolished on a wide scale in the 1950s?


Nazis? Communists?

... I give up!
Pier said…
The privatisation of steel by Churchill in 1953.

If that hadn't occurred, Britain would be surviving the credit crunch, and the people would own the fruits of their labour.

Giles, I've got a mate called A. H. Halsey, and he wrote this book called 'British Social Trends in the 20th Century'. He reckons that he's a bit of an expert on the subject of education, and he told me that this grammar school-social mobility business is nonsense. In his own words, he claimed "the steady trend towards class equality in grammar school education is little more than an optimistic myth".

He reckons grammar schools are the middle classes way to receive a very good education on the state, driving a wedge between the education they receive and the working class children who are confined to the secondary modern/comprehensive schools, which, by definition, gives them an educational experience that is lower tier.

In fact, he reckons that in 1972, 83% of middle-class children who attended school in the state sector were educated at a grammar school, as opposed to 15% of working class children (before grammar schools were abolished in all areas apart from middle class suburbia - so who knows what the figure is now!).

My other mate, R. D. Anderson wrote this pamphlet once called "Universities and Elites in Britain since 1880". He reckons that a crude measure of the social mobility stimulated by grammar schools in their heyday in the late 1940s, early 1950s can be measured by the differences in growth in University attendances amongst the social classes between the birth cohorts of 1913-1922 and 1943-1952. He reckons that grammar schools were able to help increase the rate of working class children going onto University from 1% of all working class children born between 1913-1922 to 3% of all working class children born between 1943-1952 (The first birth cohort to experience the tri-partite system of schooling, even though fee-paying grammar schools existed before then). The number of middle class children going on to University of the same period increased by a huge 19%, from 7% of all middle class children to 26% of middle class children.

Yes grammar schools do lubricate the rusty wheels of social mobility in Britain, but clearly, the beneficiaries of the selective system are middle class children like me, who are the least in need of the leg up from the state.

As someone who works at one of the few Grammar schools remaining located next to (approx. 100m away) a Council Estate (Benhill Estate), how many of SGS circa 800 pupils come from that estate?

It's painful for me to admit this, but the grammar school education that the school afforded me, which I will be forever grateful and indebted to, was ultimately the wrong policy for social mobility. Our school took the best and most enthusiastic teachers, the brilliant facilities and the most learner friendly environment, filled it with middle class children who had been coached (often privately)for years to sit an entrance exam and left the rest of the schools in the London Borough of Sutton with the leftovers.

I want to be able to justify my education, but I can't. Not from the ideological principals that I endorse, nor from the intuitive sense of justice that I hold.

Sorry Giles, I've turned (conveniently after I've got the GCSEs, A-levels and University place).
GM said…
Ah, Pier, you reluctant grammar school graduate, you raise some challenging points.

The problem with the research you cite is that is not easy to appropriate the figures from even a mere half century ago without also giving a thorough contextual background, which would have to include the different approach to university, and the widely differing interpretations of what constitutes 'working class'. Of course now, as you rightly observe, grammar schools are largely the preserve of the middle class because the middle class possessed a voice independent of their elected representatives which was raised loudly to defend and keep the grammar schools in their areas. The poor old 'working class' had no such collective voice, and were far more subject to the whims of their elected representatives to legislate against their interests. Those working class grammar school graduates who entered politics often did so in the Labour interest and seemed to determine to remove the ladder that they themselves had used - a position you yourself are now adopting it seems.

I cannot conceive of anywhere else where you would assume that, regardless of ability, aptitude or motivation, you could simply lump everyone together and teach them collectively, as if individual differences didn't matter. Yet that it was comprehensive education demands and it is little wonder that it fails all groups so, well, comprehensively.

As to the nearby housing estate of one well known London grammar, its sons would have a greater opportunity of benefiting from the grammar school on its doorstep if
(a) its primary school teachers were willing to prepare them properly for the 11+ instead of refusing to do any such thing on political grounds; and
(b) neighbouring boroughs also had a selective system which negated the need for their desperate sons to apply en masse to the sparse few still existing elsewhere.

But it is, I own, a vexed issue. After all, we hate failure, and selection implies failure for some.
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