A recent newspaper headline reads: “Universities are filtering out the middle classes”. Ed Balls is master-minding an unprecedented social engineering campaign, driven by class envy and hatred, which is designed to undermine private education by creating barriers to tertiary education for privately educated students. The government has so intimidated the universities that many have declared they will not take note of the new “A Star” grade at A level, for fear of charges of “élitism”. If universities are not élitist and proud of it, one wonders what they are for at all.
Ball’s plans for school place allocation by lottery had a similar effect, denying places in good schools to the very pupils who would most have benefited from them. It is encouraging that he now seems to be having second thoughts. This may well be cynical recognition that lotteries are profoundly unpopular with parents — who are also voters. One commentator on the radio suggested that the lottery element be maintained to decide between otherwise equally-qualified candidates. But given that a good school’s ethos and character are essential to its quality, I believe that selection by interview would be more appropriate.
Labour’s mania for social engineering is based on the spurious socialist assumption that all children have equal potential, and that differences in achievement reflect disadvantage and lack of opportunity. They seem unable to grasp the point that intelligence varies from one child to another, and that it is in large part heritable, and runs in families. Intelligence tends to correlate with achievement, and therefore to an extent with social class, so we should not be surprised to see middle class children doing well.
Of course it is true that middle-class children generally enjoy advantages in terms of the home environment which make it easier for them to learn, but it is not true that all differences in performance are the result of such advantages.
I spent several decades working in business, and a good general business principle was to put resources behind success, not behind failure. We should equally put educational resources where they will do most good. Of course less able children should enjoy a decent education — it is a scandal that today many leave school functionally illiterate — but more-able children deserve support too, and this is where Labour is failing. Even we Conservatives are not blameless. We were equivocal about the disastrous experiment with comprehensive schools. We have not always supported grammar schools as we should. And we were complicit in the pretence that vocationally-oriented Polytechnics should be re-branded as universities. We have devalued vocational education, and inflicted academic courses on those who were less likely to benefit from them.
Labour’s approach is profoundly unfair to pupils and families. Bright children are denied the opportunities they deserve. But Labour creates a broader threat to our economy. We educate bright children not merely as an act of charity, but because our country and our economy need the best people as tomorrow’s leaders, in business, in academia, and — yes — even in politics. We must embrace achievement. We must welcome élitism. We need the best.
I have high hopes of the next Conservative government, and especially in the area of education. I think we’ve finally “got it”, and have the determination and commitment to drive through change. I believe that given ten years of a Conservative administration, we can re-create world-class education in Britain. We shall not survive as an advanced nation without it.
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Labour have ruined my education.
We rarely get taught anything, it’s all “teach yourself” or “make a presentation to teach the class”. Who’s to say that’s right? Nope, right and wrong don’t exist any more. Then we must peer mark what each other do, obviously coming a long way out on these past paper questions because we aren’t teachers. None of this actually teaches us the subject.
I will NEVER vote Labour for that reason. They ruined my education.
I completely agree with your thinking, Roger. The Government should not be setting targets for the number of University entrants, for example. I would like to emphasise that history teaching in schools, is particularly poor. The absolute minimum seems to be taught, regarding our English heritage and values. Under this Labour Government, political correctness and a clear lack of discipline have done great damage to the education of children in our country’s schools.
As a current Mathematics student at university, I agree with most of what you have said. We must focus on selection by ability, not selection by postcode or by any other criteria for that matter! I would like to know your thoughts on whether the GCSE and A level syllabuses should focus on more students becoming mathematically and scientifically literate at the expense of such subjects as Media Studies which add little value to the economy. They might be advised to read a paper each morning and study something else on the side! However, business and innovation spurred by science contribute vastly to our growth and drive our economy forward! If there were more incentives for this to happen maybe it would interest more people to study them! Your point about backing the stronger institutions is also sound: for example Imperial College London, a world leader in scientific research has seen it’s grant from the Higher Education Funding Council pared back to a mere 0.1% increase on last year in nominal terms. In real terms that amounts to a 2% fall. If we are to cut back on innovation, surely that will exacerbate the costs of the recession!
Thanks Joseph. I too was a maths student — 45 years ago! I think that anyone should be allowed to study the subject of their choice. But as the state is paying all or a large part of the cost, I would have no problem if (say)universities chose to charge higher fees for less economically useful subjects. But the first thing is to get back to education that delivers understanding of the subject, not just rote learning targetted at tests.