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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Britain's Elite

Back from my Summer break during which I was paying less attention to OS than usual. So a number of posts are in the queue. 

First up is the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission report Elitist Britain? (isn't the question mark  a little coy?). The report would no doubt make fascinating reading if it had a narrative structure. But it doesn't, in fact it's little more than a set of power-point slides. Apparently PwC did the heavy lifting pro bono (and I don't doubt that a lot of effort went into the data compilation)  so we shouldn't complain about value for money, though we might ask whether the corporate relations style of the report is entirely appropriate and what about the "crowding out" of academic researchers from the feeding table? I suppose the FEC regime would rule out most academics from spending their time on this sort of thing & make the crumbs falling from the corporate table look rather appealing to the keepers of the public purse.

What about the findings? If you can't be bothered with the "do-it-yourself" style of the report itself the Guardian account served up the headlines. Apparently (shock horror) quite a large proportion of Britain's elite attended private schools. I'm not very surprised by this nor by the fact that 75% of 'senior judges" were privately educated given how long you have to sit on the bench to be a "senior judge" I assume their schooldays were long ago. What did surprise me was that only 55% of permanent secretaries went to public schools (in the British sense) though 29% went to Grammar school and only 16% to a Comprehensive (bog-standard or otherwise).

The problem with these numbers is: what am I supposed to conclude? Is the glass half-full or half- empty? Roughly 7% of British children are privately educated and more than double that post 16 so whatever way you look at it the public schools are punching way above their numerical weight. But are things getting better or worse or are they about the same as they were say one generation - 30 years - ago. Is ex Cabinet Secretary Gus O'Donnell - state educated secondary and Oxbridge only as a post-grad - an exception or the future? That's what we really need to find out and hand wringing about things we already more or less know is scarcely newsworthy.

And another thing; we shouldn't forget that not all independent schools are like Eton, Harrow etc. If you concentrate just on the leading schools in the sector it is difficult to strip out the academic achievement that leads to Oxbridge and the glittering prizes from all the other things that a public school education buys for you. There are many independent schools with exam results that are very comparable to those from good state comprehensive schools. Take for instance Lord Adonis' alma mater Kingham Hill. In 2013 at A2 61% of the 49 entries were graded A* to B. The latest results from Oxford's Cherwell School (a comprehensive)  is 62% A* to B (228 entries). If you want to know what advantages a public school education bestows other than teaching that gives you a decent chance of attaining good grades then this is where you need to focus. My hunch is that the results of such an investigation might be genuinely surprising.

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