Social Mobility

Those of you who have read the BUCF blog over the past year or so will know that this is a favoured topic of mine. I will not bore you all again as to why this is as the reasons are outlined in posts made at the end of 2009. This week’s events make this topic relevant once again.

On Monday, I attended a Professional Studies lecture and seminar about equal opportunities in schools (for those who don’t know, since leaving Brum I have become a trainee teacher). Having done the readings beforehand and listening to the lecture it became clear that over the past 25 years social mobility has declined enormously. This, will of course not be news to most of you.

This week also saw the launch of the BBC “Great British Class Survey” – – into whether class still matters in modern Britain. My view is that it does but that this is a complete and utter shame. I took the survey – it takes about 15 mins – and instead of telling you what class you are, the results tell you what aspect of your life (culture, money, and social networks) have the greatest influence on how you get on in the world. It in fact asks you to define your own class – I personally feel that I’m middle middle class (as opposed to lower middle class for example). I don’t see why they had to divide middle class but there we are. Some of you may disagree with me given what you know about me but there we are. Apparently my cultural range is broader than 90% of the UK and therefore is my highest category (I scored 100 out of 100 in this area). This suggests, according to the survey, that my social network is likely to be very diverse – which it is. I think this in turns means I potentially have  more influence.

On Thursday at 9pm on BBC2 Andrew Neill of This Week fame presented a programme entitled “Posh and Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain” ( I have, as you may know, commented on this issue before but the programme was most informative and insightful but also in parts quite depressing. A Scottish girl sitting her Highers in a state school felt that there was no possibility of someone like her being able to go to Oxbridge, or indeed enter the world of politics. This is desperately sad given that the word “politics” is derived from the Greek for “citizen”. David Davis, a self-proclaimed working class Tory, was featured in the show and the point he made was that nowadays someone from his background was less likely to end up where he is now. I can of course draw parallels here to my own father who almost certainly would not have ended up drafting this country’s legislation in Whitehall had he be born say 25-30 years later. A group of BUCF members/supporters went to a dinner last night where David Davis was the guest speaker, hence the relevance to this society.

Why Do Public School Boys Run Britain?

So before people are quick to criticise the number of privately and/or Oxbridge-educated MPs I urge them to think about the reasons why people from these backgrounds perhaps may be better equipped to hold office. When I was at school, we had a strong debating team which competed against other (mainly private) schools in the area – I was not on the debating team, my interest in politics hadn’t developed fully back then. I know that debating and EYP are being more and more encouraged in the state sector but certainly 5 years ago these competitions were dominated by independent schools, certainly where I’m from. As always, I do not seek to offend anyone with my comments and I am not suggesting that only privately-educated people should be in positions of power – I know how some remarks on this blog can be misinterpreted. I simply mean that at schools like Westminster, in particular, politics is thrust upon the pupils, whether they like it or not.

We need to get our young people from all backgrounds interested in politics  – I don’t care which party they agree with as long as they have an informed opinion. I feel this will be a great challenge for people of my generation  –  to spark an interest in the minds of the next.




11 thoughts on “Social Mobility

  1. I completely neglected to mention the issue of grammar schools! That was my main point. The abolition of grammar schools was the single worst decision that any politician has made about education policy in recent history. I am clearly very tired after an epic BUCF night out!

  2. “So before people are quick to criticise the number of privately and/or Oxbridge-educated MPs I urge them to think about the reasons why people from these backgrounds perhaps may be better equipped to hold office.”

    I’d argue that this is no reason not to criticise the high numbers of politicians from private schools. Any reason people give in defence of fee-paying schools is simply a suggestion to make state schools better. There is no justification for shutting poorer children out of education.

    Regarding Oxbridge, although there are problems with the way that networks at these uni’s allow you to move straight into top jobs (an opportunity denied to students elsewhere), we shouldn’t criticise Oxbridge graduates for getting into a top uni.

    On Grammer Schools, I have read the article you link. Family of mine lived near Hertford during the 1979 election and voted for Shirley Williams precisely due to her opposition to grammer schools. My father was the first person in his family to attend uni, while his sister (who was brighter if anything) was denied this because, at the age of 11, she was nervous of exams. His elder brother was unwell during the 11-plus.

    The answer for schools role in improving social mobility is to improve education for all, not segregating it. This is even more obvious when you consider the research on relative levels of literacy and numeracy between working class and middle class children arriving at school.

  3. I agree that education should be improved for all – but from a teacher’s perspective this is a massive ask and cannot possibly be done without significant educational reforms. The grammar schools were fantastic because people from working class backgrounds, like my father, could get a fantastic FREE education and therefore have the opportunity to get themselves out of the disadvantaged place they were in and go to Oxford etc.

    I also agree that the disproportionate number of MPs who were privately educated is wrong. But until we get more young people from “lower” social classes interested in politics I don’t think this will change in the foreseeable future.

  4. Yes, Grammar themselves were fantastic, but the system was seriously flawed. If we had kept the 11+ exams I personally would not be at University, never mind this particular one. I would’ve failed the 11+ exam and would have gone to a comprehensive were your chances of attending University were extremely low. It’s also important to note that for every successful application of a grammar school there were three applications rejected.

    Of course it will seem a daunting task for teachers, and if they are successful in the long-run, it will certainly be in the long-run.

  5. I was discussing this very issue this morning with Hasker – he suggested a 13+ instead? The 11+ exams I took in order to get into private school were not as hard as the original 11+.

    I think we should just be weeding out the ones who can’t read and write. Because as sad as this is… if they can’t do it by the time they leave primary they will not learn. It’s not my job as a biology teacher to teach kids how to use English.

    Of course, another issue is the standard of primary teaching…

  6. I did the 11+, failed, went to a comp, got straight A’s at A-level and came to a fantastic University. Going to a comprehensive does not hold you back.

  7. There are exceptions to every rule it is important to note. There is probably an equal number of people who passed the 11+ test but then went onto be comparatively unsuccessful. Yes, a comprehensive doesn’t automatically equate to holding you back as equally as a Grammar/Private school propels you high. But, the overwhelming trend and result is quite different for those who go through the system in comparison to pupils in other types of schools (if that makes sense).

  8. I had friends who went to private schools who flunked their A-levels and didn’t get into university. Going to an independent school does not guarantee the success we are discussing here.

    I didn’t do as well as I should have done despite being in a private school. I also didn’t get into med school (which was right, cos I wasn’t good enough and certainly wouldn’t have lasted this long).

    Going to a school with a reputation is great, but it isn’t a passport to success, as some people seem to believe.

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