Nick Clegg announced recently the Government’s new social mobility strategy.
Part of the policy, according to the Telegraph, is to reduce the University entry requirements for State-school educated pupils.
As usual, the government is trying to hide the failures in its own school system. And by the government, I don’t mean our politicians like privately-educated Mr Clegg – or indeed Eton-educated David Cameron. Their opinions are largely irrelevant, since they don’t have the guts to impose their will on the State employees who really run the country.
Why do around 7% of parents choose to pay several thousand pounds every single term, per child, to send their children to private schools? Sure, a few just do it for social or snobbish reasons. But most do it because they can’t get a decent standard of education in the State sector, and they are forced to pay for private schools.
The State grabs a huge amount of tax each year to run our schools. Of course, a great deal is simply wasted in Local Education Authorities or the Department for Education. (See, for example, the “Every Child Matters” strategy, created under Tony Blair and alive and well under the Coalition.)
Even where the money is not completely wasted, though, the services that are delivered are far too often very poor.
There are, of course, good State schools. For a start, most of our remaining 165 grammar schools. The government doesn’t like those though. It has a law that prevents the creation of new ones. (Only UKIP wants to encourage new grammar schools. The Tories abandoned them as soon as David Cameron became their leader.)
There are also good State Comprehensive schools. Yes, there really are. Many of them are in areas that still have grammar schools. They are forced to up their standards in order to compete for pupils with the grammar schools.
But too many State schools really are dismally failing. Parents who can’t afford to pay £10,000 a year to send each child to school are forced in many cases to make the heart-breaking decision to ruin their children’s life chances by sending them to “bog standard local comprehensives”.
Of course, the bureaucrats are trying to cover up their failure with talk of “social background” and “the middle classes”. Politicians who were in power, as opposed to merely in office, would explain to those bureaucrats in words of one syllable that the performance of their State schools is unacceptable and if they can’t improve them they will be sacked.
If the politicians haven’t the guts to do that, they could introduce education vouchers instead. That would allow pupils from poorer backgrounds to start going to private schools, and it would bring State schools into direct competition with private schools. That of course would mean a bonfire of mediocre State-run schools – which is of course what is needed.
The achievement (or lack of it) of State schools can be easily measured by the proportion of their pupils going to University. You can monitor that, by all means. Stratify it by social class. What you will find is that pupils from good backgrounds who go to private schools are more likely to go to University than pupils from good backgrounds who go to State schools.
The problem is not our Universities. No, Mr Clegg, they are not discriminating in favour of private schools. And the problem is not the British class system, or something nebulous like “lack of social mobility”. The problem is just that your bureaucrats (you know, Mr Clegg, the ones that you, the government, are responsible for?) are delivering a failing school system.
The Head Teacher of my old school (to which I went on a “Direct Grant” – direct grants were a little like education vouchers) didn’t mince his words:
“This is the old-style communist creation of a closed market, to try and deal with the problem after the event.”
The Government’s “energy and money” would be better spent on improving state education “rather than capping the achievements” of pupils in independent schools.
Despite Mr Clegg’s and Mr Cameron’s attempts to cover up for their bureaucrats’ failings, the whole country knows where the blame lies for our failing schools. It lies with the people who run our State school system. And it lies with our complicit politicians who cover up for the failings of the State, for fear they will themselves be blamed. That has been the pattern for half a century – and not just in education.