Monday, 16 December 2013

That's completely irrelevant and not even necessarily true...

From the BBC:

Grammar schools are "stuffed full" of middle-class children and do not improve social mobility, the chief inspector of schools in England says.

Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Observer the selective system was not the way to make up ground on other nations. He spoke after plans to expand grammar school provision in Kent were rejected.


The main point of the education system is to educate people. If that leads to "social mobility", that is a bonus and not a feature, but we'll come to that later.

And let's use the analogy of doctors:

1. Doctors are primarily "middle class" (they are surely the definition of middle class, are they not? And they are a self-selecting bunch. Most female doctors are married to other doctors.)

2. The taxpayer (via the government and the NHS) pays for the bulk of medical education and then pays them their salaries afterwards.

3. Although everybody pays to educate middle class doctors (glossing over the fact that high earners pay far more tax than low earners, so high earners pay far more towards doctors' education), this does not, using his logic, lead to more "social mobility".

4. Therefore, justice would be served if we shut down or privatised all our state-run medical schools and also shut down the NHS.

5. Whatever the economic or political merits of this, would that:

a) Improve the standard of doctors in this country and improve the standard of medical care for the common man? Possible but unlikely.

b) Would it improve social mobility?

- The people at the bottom would be worse off because no "free" NHS any more.

- Who would end up going to those now privatised medical schools? Only people with very rich parents, so the band of doctors would become even more self-selecting and self-reinforcing, and then nepotism and cronyism in the healthcare system will get even worse (I'm not saying it doesn't exist already).

- What are the chances of anybody outside the top couple of percent becoming a doctor? Virtually zero. So that would reduce social mobility. It would be the same with state grammar schools: everybody outside the richest seven per cent would be pretty screwed.

Interestingly, David Davis starts off by talking good sense:

Tory MP and former grammar school pupil David Davis told BBC News many working-class children "got on through having access to grammar schools".

He said: "The reason grammar schools are dominated by the middle classes now is because we've shrunk the size of the sector."


And then ruins it all:

He added that "working-class kids" could not get in "because they've been elbowed out by ambitious middle class parents".

Hang about here.

It's every parent's right to do what they think is best for their kids, which does involve a lot of extra-tuition, attending church, making 'donations' to the school's PTA, sending them to a private primary school etc, and so on to get their kids into the best school (be that private or state) they can.

Does that give kids of pushy parents an advantage: yes. Is this an unfair advantage? I don't see how it is, that's like complaining that Eddie Van Halen has an unfair advantage over other guitarists because he's practised so much.

Are they deliberately "elbowing out… working-class kids"? Are they heck, these people couldn't care less whom they elbow out, by definition, every kid that gets in has elbowed somebody else out. They'd sell their grandmothers to get their child into a state grammar school.

Having made the good point that non-middle class kids would get a better shot if there were more grammar schools, Davis misses the obvious follow-up point: what if all kids had to sit the entrance exam, like the good old-fashioned 11-plus.

Those kids who aren't interested are free to flunk the exam if they wish, but that is surely a fairer and better system than one in which only a few parents (the pushiest ones) even bother entering their kids for the entrance exam.

Here endeth.

10 comments:

L fairfax said...

"The main point of the education system is to educate people. If that leads to "social mobility", that is a bonus and not a feature, but we'll come to that later."
I agree with you I am not sure that everyone does.

The Stigler said...

Bit offensive to suggest that free school meals marks you out as "working class".

The fact is that some people, in all classes are bums, some are average, and some work hard, and they generally apply it as much to their kids as themselves.

Mark Wadsworth said...

LF, there are plenty who think like that, just not the people in charge.

TS, if it were up to me, every child would get a "free" school dinner so we couldn't get these stupid statistics.

But as you say, it's a very crude way of measuring things - it excludes the majority of "working class" (G-d I hate these expressions) people who are indeed "working".

DBC Reed said...

@MW
Your comparisons with doctors seems designed to suggest all middle-class people are socially useful.But the main determinant of middle-classness in England (not sure of elsewhere in UK)is "owning your own home".Can somebody living in a "council house" even one they've bought off the council be considered middle class? No, I thought not!

Bayard said...

"The main point of the education system is to educate people."

AFAICS, the main point of the state education system as far as the Department for Education is concerned is social engineering and instilling propaganda in formative minds.

Can somebody living in a "council house" even one they've bought off the council be considered middle class?

Of course they can. I know at least two. Class is defined by upbringing and attitudes, not where you live.

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC: "Your comparisons with doctors seems designed to suggest all middle-class people are socially useful"

Certainly not. I have never ever made such a sweeping generalisation. But doctors are, clearly, useful. As are Air Traffic Controllers and bus drivers. Do they count as middle class or working class? I do not know and I do not care.

B: "the main point of the state education system as far as the Department for Education is concerned..."

That's as maybe, but that is not the actual point of education. The point of education is education. Maybe "education" is overrated, but it never did me any harm, I quite liked going to school and doing a shed load of further professional and academic stuff.

Kj said...

Does that give kids of pushy parents an advantage: yes. Is this an unfair advantage? I don't see how it is, that's like complaining that Eddie Van Halen has an unfair advantage over other guitarists because he's practised so much.

This has been something that has annoyed equality purists all the time. Also that parents are unequally equipped to help with school-work. Every now and then, someone suggests some scheme that is based on the premise of actually wanting to reduce the ability of better equipped parents to help their kids. Even if that´s impossible except for the "final solution" of boarding every child up communally from 5 to 16 ofcourse, which I´m sure is not a thought that hasn´t passed someone´s mind...

DBC Reed said...

@KJ
What are "better equipped parents" ?Better equipped with what: at-home blackboards and terrestrial globes?
As some one who has actually taught (from degree level to whole classes of "the disaffected") I would say that the problem with UK educations is bullying.The pushy parents bully their kids, who go to school and bully their classmates,and if they can rally enough support, bully the teachers
so lessons are wasted on 'discipline' (more bullying),while the teachers are bullied by the Headmaster and more often the Deputy Headmaster and they are bullied by the HMI's and above them politicians like the odious Gove who goes on about "rigour" hands twitching round imaginary canes and tawses.
The whole system needs a great deal more consent and co-operation. And equality.And, dare I say it, basic Socialism.

L fairfax said...

I have relatives who have taught in sink schools in the UK and Colombia.
I can assure that equality would not help, the fear of poverty certainly motivated most (not all the children) in Colombia a lot more than in the UK.

Of course I am not suggesting that this a course we should follow rather the flaw in the reasoning.

Kj said...

DBC: yes, that´s a problem everywhere, and it might be even worse in middle-classdom. With "better equipped", I mean academic background. It´s widely known that having academically educated parents equals higher results, part of this is probably helping with schoolwork progression at home.