Labour’s schools policy, and especially its enthusiasm for allocating places by lottery, is based on an implicit assumption which is wholly false, and the result is that Labour’s social engineering threatens utterly to destroy the very “good schools” that they keep talking about.
They seem to assume that good schools come about by chance, and that pupils therefore need to be “shared out” between good and bad schools in a way that avoids “social segregation”, and especially in a way that denies the best places to pushy middle-class parents with sharp elbows. This way, disadvantaged children from poorer homes will have the same chance of going to a good school as middle-class children.
But good schools don’t just happen. A good school starts with a good admissions policy. Socialist idealists may hate the idea, but some children are actually brighter than others. Even worse (from the socialist point of view), intelligence is heritable, and intelligence is likely to lead to a successful career. Therefore successful middle-class parents are likely to have bright children. (The usual caveat: of course children from poorer homes can be equally bright — and clever working class kids used to have a ladder to success: it was called a grammar school. But generally and on average, middle-class children with high-achieving parents are more likely to be bright).
And those same middle-class children are more likely to come from homes where learning and education are understood and valued, where there are books on the shelf, where mothers read to toddlers, where family holidays may include the arts as well as arcade games, where parents support the school’s discipline rather than seeking to undermine it.
So schools with a selective admissions policy have the potential to be good schools. Of course they need good teachers, and good discipline, and good management as well. But these factors work together. If a school is above average, it will attract good pupils and good teachers, and the process becomes self-reinforcing. That is not to say that schools catering to poorer or less able children have to be bad: but they have to try harder.
This Labour government which has set out on its great social engineering project is the same one which has debauched our exam system, so that universities and employers no longer believe in pupils’ qualifications. A couple of years back Gordon Brown got very exercised about a girl with five straight A’s denied a place at Oxford. But far too many now get straight A’s for Oxford to take them all.
It is this Labour government which has created a testing culture which has wrung the life out of liberal education. It is the same Labour government which has demoralised teachers by burying them under tick-boxes and red-tape and risk assessments, and by denying them the tools and sanctions of discipline, and insisting on readmitting pupils expelled for outrageous and violent disruption.
The effect of admission lotteries will be to destroy the very foundation of good schools. It is a truism that socialism is about levelling down. Here is a case in point. It is a truism that socialists hate élitism. But élitism is simply a pejorative term for excellence. Sadly, they hate that too. And without excellence in education, Britain and its economy face a bleak future in this era of globalisation.
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