Alex Massie Alex Massie

Sir John Major is right about education and privilege in modern Britain

Sir John Major is, of course, correct. It is depressing, though perhaps not surprising, that the British upper-middle-classes – that is, those educated privately – still dominate what he termed the “upper echelons” of “every sphere of British influence”. Depressing because no serious person can sensibly believe that talent is restricted to the minority of people educated in Britain’s excellent private schools. But unsurprising because elites – I use the word dispassionately – have a natural tendency to do whatever it takes to maintain their elite status. Ed West is right about this.

Still, Major’s remarks were hardly, as has been claimed in some right-of-centre quarters, “an attack” on private education. They were, rather, an off-hand observation that might not, ordinarily, be thought controversial.

But this is Britain and it still takes very little to start a fight about class, privilege and education. No wonder Dan Hodges, Iain Martin, Ruth Porter, Harry Mount, James Delingpole and Martin Stephen have rushed into battle. And that’s just at the Telegraph!

Meanwhile, at ConservativeHome, Paul Goodman observes that, at least as far as the Tory party is concerned, Major’s critique applies less to David Cameron’s party than it did to the party Major led himself. As Goodman, correctly, points out there is little reason to suppose social mobility in Britain is getting worse. Most importantly, “The OECD ranks Britain ninth out of 30 on the extent to which children’s educational attainment is independent of their parents’ socio-economic status.”

That’s the not-bad news. The not-good news is that it actually counts as news that only 54% of Tory MPs were educated privately. It is, apparently, worth stressing that only slightly more than one in 20 Tory MPs attended one particular school in Windsor.

Of course, as the party of, in crude terms, the wealthy, one would expect Tory MPs to be disproportionately likely to be privately-educated.

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