It’s time to end the culture of blame on schools in working-class areas. Only limited gains can be made by changing the way these schools are run. Real improvements in education will come from a more equal school system, where students from different backgrounds attend school together
This week, I finally got round to reading Michael Gove’s speech to the National College for School Leadership. In the same week, I have been writing a document about creating a strategic vision for school improvement. Uncannily, the theme of the ‘moral purpose of education’ ran through both.
When Gove says what unites educational professionals is ‘the belief that lives can be transformed by what goes on in schools,’ there is little to argue against him since, when students are from areas of high deprivation and low aspirations, their education is their only hope to attain a better life. On the same lines, I have said that a school’s strategic vision must be based on core values and a clear moral purpose with the attainment, progress and well-being of the learner at its very centre.
Owen Jones’ book is a brilliant, moving account of how the working class have been disempowered and blamed for their own situation by both Tories and New Labour. But it could have been braver in acknowledging that Britain today is riddled with class but no longer has any classes. We should also be clear that if (when!) we eliminate all of the problems identified in this book, it will be the end of class altogether
Owen Jones' 'Chavs: the demonisation of the working class'
OK, I admit that I’ve overindulged myself a bit here. This is a long post. The best defence I can offer is that Owen Jones’ book Chavs: the demonisation of the working class delves into the very most important issues facing British society. It’s worth looking at closely.
Chavs is a brilliant account of what has happened in British society since the 1980s. Ignore the sensationalised way it has been marketed, with a provocative title and a Burberry cap on the cover. This book explains how the decline of industry destroyed the structure of working-class communities and took away economic opportunities; it describes how the political and media establishments, under both Tory and New Labour governments, have blamed the working class for their own plight and even mocked them for it; and it explains how the social problems we see in these communities are the results, not the causes, of their situation.
David Lammy's figures show that there are real barriers to getting into Oxbridge for state school students – even those who do achieve highly at A-level
The lovely Girton College, Cambridge
This week, during the full heat of the tuition fees debate, David Lammy released figures on Oxford and Cambridge admissions, painstakingly put together from Freedom of Information requests. It turns out successful Oxbridge applicants are predominantly “white, middle-class and southern.” This is not news.
What is news, is the light it throws on why that is. As Lammy said, his most important findings were on where the successful applicants came from. To take one (admittedly self-indulgent!) example, in 2008, when over a hundred Oxbridge offers were made to students from Richmond-upon-Thames, just one student from Salford was so lucky.
Oxford says that where the educational attainment is there, students will get in. But in reality it’s not so simple.
The most obvious problem is that Salford’s bright young things are not applying to Oxbridge. Richmond students averaged 260 applications to Oxbridge per year (over 13 applications per 100 students finishing A-levels or equivalent) – over ten times the rate of Salford students, who managed just 17 (or 1.2 per 100 finishing students).