I don’t for a minute believe that Mandelson believes this class war nonsense, brilliantly rubbished by Melanie Phillips today. His decision to reprise the “posh unis don’t let in poor kids” theme is a more a sign that even someone as horribly powerful as Mandy feels the need to kowtow to a certain element of the Labour Party. The Sutton Trust is absolutely correct to point to social segregation as being one of the biggest problems in Britain today – but the problem lies with the schools, not the universities. The suggestion that snobbish admissions tutors are somehow to blame does the working class no favours by deflecting attention from the real problem. If CoffeeHousers will forgive me, here’s a graph to show it:
This gulf between the quality of independent education and government-run education in Britain is one of the widest in the developed world. The financial gap has been closing rapidly, but the outcome gap has not.
This weekend I was reading Education by Choice, a 1978 book by two law professors on the need for a school voucher system. These 1970s books are depressingly relevant today, because the problems are the same. For a while, in the late 70s, it seemed people might do something about this - Keith Joseph toyed with the idea of vouchers. But the idea was tragically abandoned. And since then the problems then diagnosed - that bureaucrat-run schools shortchange the poor – has grown far worse. The failure to recognise and tackle this problem has denied millions of children the quality of education they deserve.
Pouring money into the state schools has not been the solution – and there are now academic studies showing a surprisingly weak link between cash and outcome. And those who say "it's all about money" should ask why grammars do almost as well as the independents. It is the style, culture and ethos of a school that makes the difference. Make parents the tsars, and all else will follow.
On the dust cover, it asks a fairly simple question. “Shall we continue to exclude ordinary parents from deciding how their child is educated?” The Tories answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Mandelson’s answer is to avoid the question. It’s so much easier to bang on about class war.