Ed West Ed West

Should state education be abolished?

These days I find myself so drifting away from the bounds of acceptable opinion that I don’t even shout at Radio 4 for being biased, because I don’t even understand the basis of what the arguments are about.

Take this morning’s schools feature (occasioned by Sir John Major’s comments about the ‘truly shocking’ dominance of a privately educated elite in public life), in which Harry Mount argued in favour and Owen Jones against the motion that grammar schools lead to more social mobility than comprehensives.

It was a good debate, but then you might also ask, who cares if they do? Do grammar schools provide affordable, high quality education – that’s the question? If they do, then it shouldn’t matter whether social mobility is increased or decreased, because all sorts of factors outside the realm of education affect mobility.

As Peter Hitchens pointed out in The Broken Compass, the proportion of Oxbridge graduates who came from within the state system fell quite significantly after the last grammar-educated cohort entered in the early 1970s. The converse argument is that, as Tim Wigmore argued on Telegraph blogs, grammar schools tend to favour middle class pupils not the poor.

Middle-class children will always dominate selective schools because on average they come from more literate households, have more determined parents, more books around, and higher IQ. And the more selective a school is, the tinier the proportion of pupils on free school meals there will be.

Middle-class children are in every way privileged and no amount of educational social engineering is going to change that; that the subject of debate is still equality in education rather than quality (especially when Britain has slid so far down the educational ranks for literacy and numeracy) is just baffling.

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