Thursday, 28 August 2014

Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

From the BBC:

The UK is "deeply elitist" according to an analysis of the backgrounds of more than 4,000 business, political, media and public sector leaders. Small elites, educated at independent schools and Oxbridge, still dominate top roles, suggests the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission study...

It found that those who had attended fee-paying schools included 71% of senior judges, 62% of senior armed forces officers, 55% of permanent secretaries (the most senior civil servants) and 53% of senior diplomats...

Figures for top people who went to Oxford and Cambridge paint a similar picture. Some 75% of senior judges, 59% of the Cabinet, 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs hold Oxbridge degrees.

Yes, the top level of the public sector is a bunch of self-serving, self-selected, inbred, clueless twats, we knew this.

But I think that Oxford and Cambridge are between a rock and a hard place here.

Oxford says that 56.8% of its intake is from state schools; for Cambridge it's 63.3%. So they're still skewed towards private school pupils, but it's not out of all proportion.

Now, those top two universities want to get the cleverest students, with a reasonable smattering of children of supremely wealthy parents to make large donations. Fair enough. And if those top two universities have the cleverest students, whether from state school or private school, we would expect their alumni to be at the top of many professions.

So ultimately their dilemma is this: if we take the most able state school pupils in preference to some private school also-rans, then we are doing out bit for equality and social mobility. But if we do that, then even more of our alumni will get into the top jobs and we end up being slammed for being elitist again.

And quite possibly, the equality campaigners are confusing cause and effect.

It's not so much that the self-selected people get to the top because they went to Oxford or Cambridge; they probably got into Oxford or Cambridge for the same reason that they get top civil service jobs. The same applies to those who went to private school.


ThomasBHall said...

Nepotism exists in getting "top" jobs in London for sure. It is very annoying when every intern (or trainee or pupil) is the son/daugther of an important client- but you can hardly blame Oxbridge for that.
Far more important than if top civil servants/lawyers/professionals came from Oxford is OF those graduating from Oxford AND making it to the top, how many were from rich/landed families, and how many had made their way without the chance for nepotism

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that state educated kids with equivalent grades at A Level as those who have been privately educated tend to outperform the privately educated once at university. ie; They get higher grades.

Bayard said...

TBH, it's difficult to tell because the BBC does not make a direct comparison: the categories in the Oxbridge paragraph are all different from the ones in the private school para, except senior judges, where you can see that 4% of the senior judges who went to Oxbridge, went there from state school. Which you would expect, as being made a judge relies much more heavily on contacts than rising in almost all the other categories stated. This makes me think that the BBC has cherry-picked to support its story and a much larger proportion of the 57% of permanent secretaries, 50% of diplomats, 47% of newspaper columnists, 38% of the House of Lords, 33% of the shadow cabinet and 24% of MPs than 4% went to state school.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TBH and B, that's the important bit and I was trying to work that out, but the article didn't give enough information.

PC, yes, but that is not relevant here. I was just pointing out that Ox and Cam are pilloried whatever they do, merely because they are 'the best' (or believed to be).

The Stigler said...

The people who put their kids into private education are generally either richer people or people who will make sacrifices for their kids education or people who have a kid who is so bright they can get a bursary.

Even if private education isn't actually better (and one friend of ours is actually pulling their kid out of a private school as they reckon it's no better than the local comp), the people who will go for it are more committed to their kids doing well at school or have more raw talent.

The biggest factors in a child doing well at school are them and their parents. We were frequently unimpressed by how lazy one of my daughter's teachers was - she'd get maths homework way below her standard - so, what do we do about that? Argue with the school? Talk to the wall. So, we got some maths learning books, some online maths games, maths puzzle books, I even taught her a few things. And she left way above where she should have been. Now, is that accounted for in the league tables? Does it say "parents added a point to this"? No. The school gets scored higher for our work. It's why I'm a bit sceptical of what you can read into league tables.