CASE in the media

“The Forgotten: how White Working-class Pupils Have Been Let Down and How to Change It” The Guardian 23/6/2021

The latest report by the Commons Education Committee is a shoddy piece of work whose integrity is undermined by its implied pretence that the children it talks about are, in some strange way, the victims of racial discrimination and “wokery”. All working-class children are discriminated against by our education system, but the obstacles that white working-class children face, being derived from our industrial history, are peculiarly difficult for them and their families to overcome. Committee Chair, Robert Halfon, a decent and sincere man, must feel embarrassed at having to put his name to this nonsense.

As Halfon himself says, the education system has been letting down working-class children “for decades” From the 1954 Gurney-Dixon “Early Leaving”report onwards, there have been countless inquiries into this problem, followed by reports whose mostly excellent recommendations have been met with little beyond tinkering with areas of the curriculum deemed to be mainly for the children of “other people” by governments determined, consciously or not, to resist any threat to the existing social hierarchy.

Expect more of the same.
Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

‘It’ a basic equality issue’ home learning gap between state and private schoolsThe Guardian 25/06/2020

Your report mistakenly implies that Manchester grammar school hugely outperforms St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic high school in GCSE English language because “discipline is less of a problem and parents are paying” The huge difference in resources between the two schools certainly reflects poorly on this country’ approach to educating children, but the chief reason for the huge difference in their exam results is that MGS is one of the most academically selective schools in the country, whereas St Ambrose Barlow is a comprehensive school, most of whose pupils would never have had a hope of gaining admission to MGS, regardless of parental wealth.

It is a pity that this invalid comparison detracts from an otherwise excellent account of what is very much “basic equality issue”
Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

The gap between rich and poor pupils is not the only thing wrong with GCSEs, The Guardian 12/2/20

No one who knows anything about education –a category that rarely includes government ministers –could disagree with the main thrust of your editorial.

In particular, you are right to point out “the inadequacy of a whole mode of thinking about education, according to which anything that cannot be audited can appear virtually without meaning”

However, it is simplistic to imply that this sterile philosophy can be laid at the door of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. Destructive as this ignorant duo have been, the philosophy underpinning their ludicrous behaviour can be traced all the way back to Kenneth Baker’ 1988 Education Reform Act, which first introduced the idea that market forces, as expressed in the operation of parental choice, would be the key to raising standards.  This idea – unchallenged by any subsequent education secretary – has been a disaster: not only have standards not been raised in any meaningful way, but the belief that education is a public good which benefits society as a whole has been largely abandoned and replaced by the idea that the purpose of education is to benefit some children at the expense of others, according to how well their parents are able to compete for resources. After 150 years of state education, this is a very sad state of affairs.
Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

The 7% problem, New Statesman 5-11/7/19

Faced with the charge that UK private schools make a major contribution to the preservation of inherited wealth and privilege, Andrew Halls, the Headmaster of King's College School, tries to create a smokescreen by attacking the shortcomings of state schooling.  It perhaps has not occurred to him that a major reason for the lack of resources and constant political interference that bedevil state schools is that the children of the rich and powerful do not attend them or that the disappearance of competitive games, modern languages and creative arts from state schools of which he complains has been largely due to education policies made by people who went to schools like his - most notoriously the 1988 Education Reform Act, introduced by Kenneth Baker (St Paul's and Magdalen).  

As for British children being overweight, unhappy and bullied, I am not aware of any evidence that these problems are significantly less common in private than in state schools.  In any case, who has been running the country during the lifetime of the current generation of children and where did these people go to school?

It is not "patronising" to recognise that very able children from under-resourced schools and impoverished families may find their ability not fully reflected in their examination grades and it is perfectly reasonable for universities to take this into account when assessing a student's potential.  Universities already know that, among students with similar A-level grades, it is the state educated who are likely to obtain the best degrees and are understandably anxious not to mistake superficial polish for genuine erudition.

Finally, if Andrew Halls has any evidence that today's young people are "less literate and numerate than their grandparents", he really ought to quote it.  As a grandparent of five children aged from 3 to 19, I certainly haven't noticed this.  On the other hand, 80% of my own generation failed the 11+ and mostly went to secondary modern schools, whence they left at 15 with no qualifications and, very often, a wish to have nothing whatsoever to do with education ever again.  I think it unlikely, to say the least, that, as a generation, we are better educated than our grandchildren.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Private schools ripe for reform, The Observer 7/7/19

In an otherwise excellent article, Sonia Sodha suggests that banning private schools from charging fees may be "deemed impossible" (Comment and Analysis, June 30th).  However, as the example of Finland shows, determined political action based upon a coherent long term vision is not only extremely possible but is the key to developing an education system that is both equitable and high-performing.  The inherent inequity and social divisiveness of the current system will not be be seriously reduced by such measures as widening access to elite universities because the power of the most prestigious schools is not primarily educational but socio-economic: when it comes to having easy access to elite positions in society, going to Eton is vastly more important than going to Oxford.  Nor will financial measures such as removing tax advantages have any serious impact: parents who can afford more than £40,000  on basic fees alone will hardly notice the increase in costs.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest obstacles to radical reform is the Labour Party, whose record since 1945 in confronting the powerful interests vested in the system can only be described as one of abject cowardice.  For all Corbyn's ranting about social justice, there is no sign whatsoever of this changing.  

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Selective education and social mobility, The Guardian 2/7/19

Tony Pitman’s preference for the German selective over the Finnish comprehensive model (Letters, 1 July) is based on flimsy reasoning and scant empirical evidence. The reason the Finnish model is so attractive is that it has plainly worked, as every new OECD study of global education systems shows. Incidentally, the same studies show that selective systems of the kind he favours are far less effective in terms of resultant economic productivity than inclusive ones.

There is also no evidence that having more grammar schools would diminish the big attractions of the private sector, which are its exclusivity and social networking opportunities. Students from comprehensives outperform those from both grammar and private schools at university degree level, but go on to fewer of the top jobs than their privately educated counterparts.

In the UK, who your parents are and where you went to school are still the main determinants of social mobility. Either we do something radical to change this, or we accept it and shut up about believing in mobility. Talking about bringing back grammar schools is an irrelevant distraction.

Chris Dunne, London and Campaign for State Education

Mr Pitman is mistaken in his assertion that private schools have “absorbed the demand that grammar schools used to fulfil”. In 1966, 7.1% of UK children were being privately educated, compared with the current 7%. If foreign children are excluded, the current figure drops to 6.5%, suggesting that demand for private schooling was, if anything, higher during the heyday of the postwar selective system.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

Tackling the damage done to the UK by private schools, The Guardian 20/3/19

John Harris suggests that obliging elite universities to admit no more than 7% of their students from private schools would obviate the need to abolish these socially and culturally damaging institutions (Britain's crisis is rooted in the power of our public schools - March 18th).  This argument assumes that the ability of the most prestigious of these schools to promote their pupils into elite positions in society is based upon the quality of the education they offer when, in fact, their power is essentially social and derives from the kind of pupils who go there in the first place.  A landmark research project, carried out by Reeves and Friedman at the LSE in 2017, showed quite conclusively that pupils attending one of the nine original "public" schools handed over to the rich by the Clarendon Commission of 1861 are overwhelmingly more likely to join the ruling elite than pupils of other schools, whether private or state, quite regardless of their academic achievements.  The quality of education offered by these schools is completely beside the point.

Also, the 7% who attend private schools account for around 30% of A-level grades, chiefly because most private schools are academically selective, so any ceiling set upon the numbers admitted to elite universities from private schools should be set at 30% rather than 7%.  Many Oxbridge colleges already admit 70% or more of their students from state schools and it is high time that all of them were required to do so but Harris is naive if he thinks that this would seriously challenge the power of our ruling elite.

The most effective means to tackle the problem is to follow the example of the Finns and make it illegal for any school to charge fees.  Such a policy could see the best private schools incorporated into the state system, while schools which offer little beyond straw boaters and nicely piped blazers would just disappear.

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

UK public pays high price for private schools, The Guardian 15/2/19

In putting "another point of view" about private schooling, Doug Clark perpetrates a number of common fallacies (letters, February 12th).  Firstly, it is ridiculously inappropriate to compare "luxury homes, cars, exotic holidays" with the fees for private schools.  Good education is not a luxury but an essential provision which needs to be equally available to all children if we are ever to have a properly functioning society.  Parents are not to be blamed for seeking the best for their children but the private school system encourages the wealthiest to do this at the expense of the great majority.  For example, 14% of the teaching force, trained mainly at public expense, is currently employed in schools which teach 6.5% of the nation's children.    

Secondly, the fact that private schools meet the criteria required for charitable status is merely a reminder that these criteria are quite ridiculously inadequate.  The charitable status enjoyed by private schools represents a subsidy to the wealthiest from the great majority of taxpayers, whose own schools are poorly resourced.  

Thirdly, the effects of the "stellar" teaching identified by Mr Clark as a feature of private schooling do not seem to last beyond childhood.  Repeated research has established that, among university students with similar grades at A-level or its equivalent, the privately schooled are the least likely to obtain the best degrees.  As for "parental encouragement and studious atmosphere", these are not difficult to ensure when those who do not conform can simply be shown the door.

Finally, Mr Clark might reflect upon the fact that the products of these schools have formed Britain's ruling elite since the middle of the 19th century.  After 150 years of national decline, does he think they have done well?  

Michael Pyke, Campaign for State Education

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