At 8pm tonight, I’m presenting a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on inequality, entitled How The Rich Get Richer. In 27 fact-filled minutes, I go through a lot of things – arguing that inequality is about more than tax receipts, and tackling it means more than complaining about rich people. In fact, I’d argue that the chief sponsor of inequality in Britain is state education.
Everyone knows that, in general, state schools are better in leafier areas. That’s why wealthy parents pay so much for houses in a good catchment areas: make no mistake, they’re buying their school place as surely as someone who sends their child to Eton.
Ch4 Dispatches commissioned the Centre for Social Justice to look at five years worth of exam results, and then map it against deprivation. In theory, there should be no link: if schools serve rich and poor equally – giving extra support to deprived communities if needed – then the results should be the same. Instead, we found a picture of near-perfect inequality:
Teaching unions are very good at blaming the parents, and saying (in polite terms) that poor kids will never get as decent exams as the rich because of complex sociological factors. This is what’s known as the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’. And while it’s true that kids in Britain can start at a disadvantage, the gap – appallingly — widens as they make their way throughout the state system.
It’s a shame that so many who are genuinely upset about inequality in Britain can’t see past the private school system. Of course, no analysis of inequality in Britain is complete without looking at private education. We filmed at Wellington College and spoke to its master, Sir Antony Seldon. The fees are £35,000 a year, and you can certainly see why it helps the rich get richer.