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We still live in the ‘dictatorship of the privately educated’

TODAY’S report from the Sutton Trust makes pretty shocking if not surprising reading.

The domination of the higher echelons of the economy, the judiciary and our supposed “democracy” by the 7 per cent of the population who attend private schools, and in particular the 1 per cent who attend Oxbridge, is one more example of how our education system crystallises class differences and reproduces them generation after generation.

Education, which should be the opener of minds and breaker of chains, continues to act as a key element of the system which reproduces the inequality of capitalist relations of production and power.

These figures are particularly shocking when set alongside the correlation between poverty and poor Sats results — the Reclaiming Schools research network has shown that one in four children on free school meals are failed in all three subjects by Sats, twice as high as the average for all pupils.

Or when considered alongside statistics released today by the National Education Union, which show that more than 8,500 children with special educational needs or disabilities have no access to any type of educational provision at all.

If you combine this with the hugely damaging impact of selection (or rejection) at 11, as practised in the 15 existing selective education authorities, you have a picture of segregation and discrimination on the basis of class and income.

Children of the ruling class are prepared for government, a handful of more affluent workers whose parents can afford private tutors are selected for managerial and professional roles, while the majority of the population is prepared for a life of wage-slavery and following orders.

Is it any wonder that we’ve seen successive moves to narrow the curriculum in state schools through a relentless fixation on memorising basics, with no attention paid to creative and critical thinking?

Of course teachers resist this petrification of education, but the intention of those in power is clear.

As an anonymous Department for Education official told an education researcher in the mid-1980s: “There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match … When young people drop off the education production line and cannot find education at all, or work which meets their abilities and expectations, then we are only creating frustration with perhaps disturbing social consequences. We have to select: to ration the educational opportunities so that society can cope with the output of education…

“There may be social unrest, but we can cope with the Toxteths, but if we have a highly educated and idle population, we may possibly anticipate more serious social conflict. People must be educated once more to know their place.”

This was the thinking that led to the 1988 Education Reform Act, and to the neoliberal restructuring of education that has been the consistent policy direction since, regardless of whether the Tories or Labour have been in government. This was the “common sense” of education — neoliberal hegemony.

But finally, we have an opportunity to break this cycle, in the form of a Labour government-in-waiting which has dared to tear up the neoliberal playbook and suggest that there may be an alternative. It is our job to define that alternative.

We must refuse to know our place. We must resist the ruling class assault on the breadth, the depth, the creativity and the critical nature of state education.

We must reject selection and end the system of private education, and we must fight for a single united national education service that acts in the interests of all our children and of all generations to come, giving them a broad and balanced education that develops them as fully rounded citizens of a new society.

That is our duty to the future.


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