Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Social mobility in the UK

When my students first confronted with the British class system, they often imagined a Medieval caste system. The recognition of class is so different from the American denial of class, it's easy to get confused. American students often assume that people are born into social positions that they cannot change.

This article from the January 17th Economist will probably help students acquire a more realistic image of the British class system.

It's still not fair

"Gordon Brown’s government announced its latest attempt to improve the chances of the poor and undereducated. The smorgasbord includes bonuses of £10,000 ($14,575) to persuade talented teachers to stay in unpleasant schools, a little bit of cash (£57m) to provide free child care for particularly deprived two-year-olds, a tripling (to 45,000) of the number of state-funded loans for retraining and promises to help bright but poor children gain entry to university. All perfectly good measures—and perfectly indicative of the government’s frustration.

"Labour came to power in 1997 pledging to make Britain a fairer society. For all the billions of pounds and litres of sweat expended, progress—good at first—has been patchy overall. An OECD study last year concluded that Britons enjoyed neither equal opportunities nor equal outcomes. Income is shared out less evenly than in most rich countries (among OECD members, only Italy and America are more unequal). Opportunities for the poor to better themselves relatively are hard to come by: a father’s income determines his son’s to a greater extent in Britain than in any other OECD country. True, the study found that inequality and poverty were falling in Britain, but its data ran only until 2005. More recent information from Britain’s Office for National Statistics suggests that the trend has now gone into reverse...

"Potentially the most significant announcement this week is that ministers are considering explicitly forbidding government departments from discriminating on grounds of social class. And Alan Milburn, a former health secretary who is leading a government commission on how to get more poor youngsters into professions such as medicine and law, frets that their access is being blocked by the sharp-elbowed middle-classes..."

See also: Growing Unequal? Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries

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At 4:36 PM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Alan Carter wrote from Oxford, UK to remind me that social mobility is more complex than The Economist article makes it out to be.

"It might be worth trying to piece together Labour's history on education policy viz: access to the private/independent schools.

"This does involve some knowledge of the 'system'. Comparatively, I think, more under-18s are in private schools ( or 'independent' as we users of them like to say) than in the U.S.

"Under the 'direct grant' scheme it was possible to get in to a private school on a 'free place' as the government subsidised these places 'directly'.

"I myself was one such. Today, that would be worth about £12,000 per year.

"Labour abolished this in 1977, the Conservatives then re-introduced it as 'assisted places', Labour then made great play out of abolishing assisted places in 1997! All the money they would save ( around 250 million as I recall) would go into state schools , they really banged on about this so it should be clearly visible in the publicity .

"End result? No improvement in social mobility!"

At 4:36 PM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Alan followed up with this 2006 article from the Daily Mail:

Pupils robbed as Labour scrap assisted places

"By SARAH HARRIS, Daily Mail
"Last updated at 13:35 10 July 2006

"Education: bright pupils will suffer

"Labour's decision to scrap the assisted places scheme has robbed thousands of bright pupils of the chance to attend elite universities and earn higher wages, research suggests.

"Youngsters who received government cash to attend private schools before Tony Blair was elected went on to earn considerably more than their state school peers.

"Almost 20 per cent of pupils who were on the scheme are paid more than £70,000 a year in their thirties, compared with 7.6 per cent of their state counterparts.

"They also achieved more highly in their GCSEs and A-levels and were more likely to go on to Oxford and Cambridge.

"The study from London University's Institute of Education has prompted calls for independent schools to be opened up to more pupils from less wealthy homes.

"The assisted places scheme was established by the Tories in 1980 to help cover private school fees for bright children from modest homes.

"Labour scrapped the initiative after the 1997 election to pay for its pledge to cut infant class sizes. At the time it was helping 32,000 pupils a year.

"The study followed the progress of 62 pupils who went to private schools in 1982 under the assisted places scheme, and 152 from similar backgrounds who went to state schools.

"Researchers found that children who took part in the scheme scored better exam results and of those who stayed on at school more than a third went on to elite universities.

"The report concludes: "It is clear that for many individuals, the assisted places scheme provided a pathway to high-level qualifications, elite university places and occupational success."

"The study was commissioned by the educational charity, the Sutton Trust, whose chairman Sir Peter Lampl is a government adviser.

"In October, Dr Priscilla Chadwick, former chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, called for the government to introduce vouchers, enabling parents to receive the same amount to spend on private fees as it costs to fund a state school place.

"But Schools Minister Jacqui Smith said the Government would not fund an 'escape route' out of the state education system.

"Her successor, Lord Adonis, yesterday firmly ruled out a return to the assisted places scheme. He said: 'We do not think it right for the Government to pay for parents to go private, but rather invest in improving state schools.'

"Tory education spokesman David Willetts said the Conservatives were not planning to bring back the assisted places scheme."

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Alan Carter pointed to this related article and added, "More on the 'nets & ladders' of govt. intervention in private education - although this 'nationalization' is not continuing with selection at entry (the good private schools are hard to get in academically and then cost a fortune) it is another twist."

Government to nationalise failing private schools

"The government will nationalise recession-hit private schools by turning them into state-funded academies, ministers have confirmed.

"Headteachers predict that some struggling fee-charging schools will seek to join the scheme to stave off closure, as more parents desert the private sector.

"There are warnings, too, that thousands of pupils may seek places at already-stretched state schools this September if private schools fail...

"Under the programme, private schools in England can convert to academy status by dropping fees and entry tests, and promising to comply with the admissions code and teach the core national curriculum. They gain state funding but retain more independence around employing staff and their wider curriculum than other state schools...

"Local authorities are already warning of an influx of pupils who would normally have gone to private schools. In west London, councils report record applications for state schools this year...

"Opponents of the academy scheme said it was a major shift. Academies were devised to target children in the poorest areas. John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers, said: 'It's bail-out for those schools. It's the antithesis of the original expectation of the programme to meet the needs of disadvantaged pupils.'"


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