educationinequalitydream

The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove recently wrote an article for the New Statesman where he details the injustices of the large number of university places that go to public school students and highlights just how much former privately educated people dominate our society, citing the England Cricket side as a prime example.

Whilst Gove’s intentions might be noble and he is right to have respect for the standard of teaching that public schools produce, can we take seriously any claim to wish to fix this issue in a government cabinet which is dominated by privately educated people who are predominantly white and male? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has a personal fortune estimated to be in the region of £5 million and is heir apparent to a baronet. Do we believe this to be representative of our society and does George Osborne seem likely to be concerned with bringing education standards in the poorest areas of the UK in line with the wealthiest?

Gove writes in his article about how “the Berlin Wall between state and private schools is crumbling” but I do not see it. He also refers to his desire to see state schools to be able to compete with private schools. This wish demonstrates an obsession that we have of quantifying education into league tables. Yes, all schools should have the same standard of education and whether or not a fee is paid for that school should be irrelevant but it is not.

The reason why our society is dominated by those who were privately educated is because poorer schools in poorer areas do not give children the same level of opportunity. Andrew Strauss became England Cricket captain because he was given the opportunity to play cricket from a young age attending an independent school. Although in my home county of Suffolk, we had a local cricket league, rarely was it played in PE lessons which were dominated by football. The state shouldn’t try to make more schools independent by creating academies so they can improve— it should be setting the standard of education which gives the same level of opportunity to any student studying anywhere. It should be training teachers to give children from any school the same opportunity and the same standard of learning.

A study showed that the gap between a high achieving 15 year old boy from a wealthy background and the same aged boy from a poor background can be as high as 2.5 years. The study also showed that somebody who attends an independent day school is 55 times more likely to attend Oxford or Cambridge. Gove himself accepts in his article that this doesn’t actively reflect the talent of children in the country but just demonstrates where the opportunities are.

Politicians seem only to care about the middle-class. We hear this in the US as much as in the UK. Helping the middle-class seems to be the key to winning an election but what about the working class people who go to underachieving state schools? Why would the government care about helping them when these people typically don’t vote in elections? There is a good reason. The estimated cost of poor social mobility in the UK is £140bn which is 4% of GDP. Every time that a student in a poorer school is denied the opportunity of a public school student, it hurts the economy.

Do we believe that the current government can really tackle the issues of inequality in education? I do not even believe that they want to try. A YouGov poll indicates that when asked which social class you would describe a party leader as, 77% thought David Cameron was upper-class and 45% thought Ed Miliband was middle-class. The lack of working class representation in parliament is a definite concern but given the poorer standards of education that students from working class areas receive, can we really expect this to change any time soon?