93% of Britain’s children are victims of discrimination. Why? Because they are state educated

Janet Downs's picture
Unleashing aspiration: the Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions” (2009): “…although only 7% of the population attend independent schools, well over half the members of many professions have done so. For example, 75% of judges, 70% of finance directors, 45% of top civil servants, and 32% of MPs were independently schooled.”

The Panel found that the social mobility experienced by post-war generations had slowed. Will Hutton, in his book “Them and Us” highlights one of the causes as the “unwillingness of the better-off to pay for wider education and training.” At the same time, they dismiss the state system as “inadequate, irrespective of the advances it makes” and take refuge in private education.

Private education purchases access to a group perceived to be superior – hence the rhetoric of some free schools that they provide “private education” courtesy of the taxpayer. The propaganda that private schools provide a better education still persists yet a Sutton Trust Report in 2010 found that comprehensive school pupils outperformed independent and grammar school pupils at university. It appears, then, that the superficial polish which private schools allegedly pass on to their pupils doesn’t result in superior degrees.   And money should not be the key to access - it should be merit.

Yet many politicians of both parties (and some proposers of free schools) are in thrall to private schools (although what they really mean are public schools rather than minor independent schools). Labour’s Lord Adonis, architect of the academy programme, spoke of injecting the public schools’ DNA into the state system. But this injection does not necessarily improve the patient. Sir Robert Woodard academy, co-sponsored by private school chain Woodard Schools, was judged inadequate by Ofsted in late 2011. Wellington Academy, sponsored by Wellington College, judged satisfactory in December 2011, claims it is “one of Wiltshire’s highest performing schools” yet the number of pupils gaining the GCSE benchmark (5+ GCSEs A*-C including Maths and English) fell from 45% in 2010 to 40% in 2011. The Isle of Sheppey Academy, sponsored by Dulwich College, was judged inadequate in December 2011.

So public school sponsorship of academies is not a silver bullet, privately-educated pupils are outperformed at university by pupils from state comprehensive schools, and UK state schools outperform private schools when socio-economic factors are taken into account.

And yet the 7% of children whose parents pay for them to attend independent schools stand a greater chance of gaining a university place and a prestigious job than the 93% who are state educated despite the fact that the success of private schools is dependent upon their intake. This is discrimination against most of Britain’s children.

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eJD8owE1's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 11:00

"And yet the 7% of children whose parents pay for them to attend independent schools stand a greater chance of gaining a university place and a prestigious job"

You don't know that, and you're doing the private schools' advertising for them. Correlation does not imply causation. An equally plausible theory would be "having parents who themselves have the education and resources which mean they can afford private education and are sufficiently motivated to spend the money on that rather than ski-ing holidays ensures success, irrespective of the school you attend".

This is another example of wanting to use "evidence" only when it supports your case. It's widely claimed that individual children who would do well in grammar schools do equally well in good, or even indifferent, comprehensive schools: that's the entire basis of the arguments against selection. When grammar schools point to their better lumped results, it is (largely correctly) pointed out that their results are no better than the same sub-cohort in other schools. If you don't believe that, say so now.

But private schools are grammar schools with boots on. Not only are they de facto or de jure selective, they inherently select only for the richest, most qualified and most supportive parents. George Monbiot, an MP's son, did well out of Stowe: did he do any better than Hilary and Melissa Benn, MP's children, in a state school?

Imagine that you could, at a stroke, close all private schools and compulsorily transfer their pupils to state schools (you can't, of course, but image, arguendo). Do you seriously believe that the children of rich, education, powerful parents would suddenly have no advantage over bricklayers' children? And, conversely, if said bricklayers' children are given a free place to Eton, how many of them end up as high court judges?

Private education is a symptom of the class system, not a cause. But doing their advertising for them, you tell middle-class parents that by pauperising themselves to sit in the same room as the well-connected, their children will be admitted to that inner circle. You might as well propose that we could solve inequality of access to higher education by buying disadvantaged children Barbour jackets.

"Private education purchases access to a group perceived to be superior"

"New money" doesn't buy access to "old money", as any football player will attest.

"And money should not be the key to access – it should be merit."

That's high-minded, but almost meaningless. The various camps just define "merit" ideologically, and get the results they want.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 11:37

eJD8owE1 - look at the figures from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions which shows the dominance of privately-education people in certain professions. It is a massive waste of the nation's talent if professions recruit disproportionately from a tiny sector - a sector which can be accessed by payment of money.

It is not "high-minded" to say that university places and employment should be open to all - no-one should gain unfair advantage simply because their parents paid money. Neither should "rich, education (sic), powerful" parents pull strings in order that their child has particular advantage. Of course, may will, but that does not make it right.

You are right, of course, that private education is a sympton of the class system which obstinately persists. However, the economic health of this country depends on access to employment being fair with jobs going to those best qualified and not to those who belong to a select club.

"Merit" - dictionary definition. n. 1 excellence 2 a good point of quality v. deserve something. ORIGIN Latin meritum 'due reward'.

That's exactly it - "due reward". Reward for effort, not reliant on money or luck.

eJD8owE1's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 12:21

"look at the figures from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions which shows the dominance of privately-education people in certain professions."

You'd first need to show those people wouldn't have ended up in the same professions had they gone to the local school. I went to university never having even heard of "the professions" nor ever having considered Oxbridge: that's the fault of the school I went to not telling me, not other schools and parents being better informed. You're returning to correlation rather than causation.

"However, the economic health of this country depends on access to employment being fair with jobs going to those best qualified and not to those who belong to a select club."

You cannot prevent parents supporting their children, nor would it be possible or desirable to do so. If you regularly have senior MPs around for dinner, it's hard to see how that won't advantage your child in becoming an MP, even if just by making him aware that it's a practical possibility, as several Labour MPs can attest. The main thing successful parents give their children is a sense that ambition is realistic. The question is how you encourage people to have ambition, and to do the things necessary to support that ambition. Trying to stop parents helping their children is unrealistic and wrong.

We have all, I suspect, seen children whose ambitions are crushed by their parents, or whose parents' misguided thinking means the ambitions can never happen. Stop worrying about the children whose parents are helping them, and worry instead about those those parents are hindering them.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 15:40

eJD8owE1 - it does not follow that in criticising the unfair advantage which accrues to children simply because they have been privately educated that I am not in favour of parents supporting their children. Parental support is essential for a child's success at school (see thread below re reading). However, there is a difference between parental support which encourages a child to achieve to the best of its ability and parental support which seeks to obtain an unfair advantage over other people's children. In this case the unfair advantage is obtained via the payment of money which buys access into a network which thrives on nepotism.

I am all for parents helping their children - but not at the expense of other people's children. Other people's children in this case are the 93% who are not educated privately.


eJD8owE1's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 18:35

"However, there is a difference between parental support which encourages a child to achieve to the best of its ability and parental support which seeks to obtain an unfair advantage over other people’s children."

Could you give examples of things on each side of the line?

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 16:06

Janet - State interference in the lives of individuals can get pretty unpleasant, as others better informed than I have pointed out on other threads.

'In the end, the safety of my family could no longer be guaranteed. The threats from Uppsala municipality were too many, too brutal, and every invitation to dialogue was turned down. The actions of the Uppsala local government could hardly be interpreted in any other way than as a hidden message of deportation”


Discrimination and unfair advantage are strong charges.

The potential follow up on such strong charges will not affect the immensely wealthy, many of whom are among the most unpleasant people on the planet, as anyone who deals with them will testify.

It will, as it always does, affect those least able to defend themselves.

Are you sure you really want to dictate to people how they must educate their children?

That is the only logical conclusion from the final sentence of your post.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 17:01

Tim - at no point have I advocated state interference in the lives of individuals. Neither do I dispute the right of parents to send their children to independent schools. It does not follow that because I criticise the unfair advantage that can accrue to privately educated children (bolstered by unfair criticism of the state system) that I want to dictate how people must educate their children.

It is a large leap from criticising this unfair advantage and persecuting parents of home schooled children (which were, in any case, not the subject of the thread).

I think your straw man has been effectively demolished - legitimate criticism is not "state interference".

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 18:20

Janet - You use a strong word - discrimination, without any qualification.

The 'large' leap is about one Parliamentary Act amendment, from a majority government, away, as you will know:

'What to do if you’re being discriminated against

If you or someone you know is being discriminated against, don’t suffer in silence. As demonstrated above, discrimination is illegal. The people discriminating against you are therefore violating your rights and breaking the law.'


Are you sure you are entirely clear about what you are suggesting?

eJD8owE1's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 18:36

"It is a large leap from criticising this unfair advantage and persecuting parents of home schooled children (which were, in any case, not the subject of the thread)."

Why would parents homeschool their children if not to obtain an advantage for their child? Isn't the whole reason they do it that they believe the education they provide is better, and therefore more advantageous, than the education provided by the state?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 17:02

Dr Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College, said that independent schools were "detached from the mainstream national education system, thereby perpetuating the apartheid which has so dogged education and national life in Britain since the Second World War."

Apartheid is a strong term and one I avoided. Yet this was the term used by a head of a public school to describe the demarcation between private and state schools.

http://ir2.flife.de/data/natcen-social-research/igb_html/pdf/1000001_e.pdf (Seldon quote page 49)

Tim Bidie's picture
Thu, 17/05/2012 - 18:24

Dr Anthony Seldon rightly recommends that private schools should assist the state sector.

He is not recommending that they should be outlawed as discriminatory.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 11:23

Tim - read my comments very carefully. I have not suggested that private schools should be outlawed - that was your straw man argument. Dr Seldon has highlighted a problem - in his view independent schools perpetuate segregation. His answer is, as you rightly said, to encourage independent schools to sponsor academies. However, there is a reluctance among independent schools to do this. And as my original post points out, such sponsorship is not a magic bullet.


Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 13:32

Home education is regarded by the UN as a valid form of education under the concept of ”the right of education”. Home education is permitted in most of the world’s democracies with the exception of Germany (under their school law of 1938) and now Sweden. The research on home education shows excellent student results both academically and socially. Removing the choice to home educate must therefore be seen as an infringement on a human right.

Those who are punished for home education must be seen as politically persecuted, and those who are forced to emigrate as going into political exile.

You use the word 'Discrimination' in your post heading and in its final sentence.

Discrimination is a profoundly pejorative word.

Acts of parliament have been passed at regular intervals to outlaw various forms of discrimination.

The logic of your argument implies that private schools should be outlawed as being discriminatory.

If private schools are outlawed, home education will certainly be outlawed with it.

The actual causes of inequality have nothing to do with education, but everything to do with the disgraceful economic mismanagement of this country.

'Gordon Brown believed in the positive social impact an increase of economic growth would automatically generate. Yet, after 13 years, economic practice showed that social inequalities increased instead of decreasing, as we will see further on, despite an unprecedented period of economic growth'


Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 14:39

Tim - you are correct: "Discrimination is a profoundly pejorative word". I deliberately chose it to draw attention to an unfair situation. I avoided the word "apartheid" although this was used by Dr Seldon and the British Social Attitudes Survey 2012 (see post below).

Your discussion about home education is a red herring. I made it clear that I was discussing private or independent schools. I also made it clear that I didn't dispute their right to exist.

You are correct that social inequality rose under Labour. That's because Labour followed a neo-liberal strategy with hands-off regulation which allowed the banks to bring the world to the brink of collapse. Lord Mandelson, it should be remembered, said he was relaxed about people getting "filthy rich" although he has now tried to distant himself from his remarks.

However, this doesn't detract from the point of this thread - that privately-educated people are disproportionately represented in some universities, professions and Parliament. This disadvantages state-educated people.


Tim Bidie's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 15:11

'The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) does not protect European citizens against Hitler’s laws. The EU Court’s decision [pdf] states that the right to education “by its very nature calls for regulation by the State.”

German parents are currently being prosecuted on the basis of a Nazi bill of 1938 which banned homeschooling.....

The court denied a request from the Konrad family to rule that Germany’s ban on homeschooling violates their human rights to educate their own children according to their own religious beliefs.

Fritz and Marianna Konrad filed the human rights complaint in November 2003 arguing that Germany’s compulsory school attendance severely endangers their children’s religious upbringing, and promotes teaching inconsistent with their Christian faith, especially the State’s mandate of sexual education.'


My point is a general one about freedom.

State intervention is alien to the basic concept of English Law, freedom of the individual.

It is manifest, from your use of the word discrimination, that your intention is to promote state intervention of one kind or another, for example an amendment to the charities act, to curtail private education.

That is a profoundly illiberal stance with the potential for unintended consequences.

It is important that we are all clear about what we wish for.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/05/2012 - 11:35

The British Social Attitudes Survey 2012 used its data to investigate this statement made by Andrew (now Lord) Adonis and Stephen Pollard in their book, "A Class Act: the Myth of Britain's Classless Society" (review below):

"What marks England out is the degree to which its schools segregate the socially advantaged from the rest."

The survey concluded: "...that private education does, indeed, perpetuate a form of separate development in Britain, or 'social apartheid'."

This separation of privately-educated people from state-educated ones disadvantages the latter.



andy's picture
Fri, 25/05/2012 - 10:19

"The survey concluded: “…that private education does, indeed, perpetuate a form of separate development in Britain, or ‘social apartheid’.”

Separate development is in no way shape or form the same as "apartheid". In the legal sense the latter is enshrined in law with no alternative, whereas the former is a matter of personal choice and consumerism (ability to pay). Put another way separate development is voluntary whereas apartheid is forced segregation. Thus the comparison is based on unfounded errant hyberbolic nonsense. The otherside of the coin is that those that make and peddle the comparison leave themselves open to the charge of meddling in the politics of envy and totalitarianism. The latter has no place in a fully democratic society.

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