Defending the indefensible?


Britain has one of the most socially divisive education systems in the world, and yet in this strange debate about social mobility, which seems to have surfaced out of nowhere – probably to divert our attention away from the NHS reform cock-up – it doesn’t get a mention: in fact Nick Clegg pedalled hard to avoid a question on the subject from Jon Snow on Channel 4 news last night.
Isn’t it about time we addressed the issue – properly? Public schools enjoy charitable status. This effectively means that the taxpayer subsidises the education of the better off, which is nonsense.
Apart from the fact that it’s not fair, it distorts our education system. How? By attracting the best teachers away from the state system by paying them a significantly better salary. Secondly, it deprives the state system of an important dynamic – the pushy parent. How much better would our state schools be if there was no alternative for the well off child? Thirdly, creating an educational apartheid based on the ability to pay does nothing for social cohesiveness. Is it not one of the main reasons for the loss of fraternity in our society?
If public schools are to continue to have a charitable status then at least two thirds of the pupils should be non-fee paying. Eventually the system should be scrapped completely. And what would become of institutions like Eton, Winchester and Harrow? They could be turned into universities. All those Technical colleges that became universities could revert to their previous status and provide much needed vocational training.
If we’re going to have a serious debate about social mobility, the issue of public schools cannot and should not be dodged. Let’s get everything out in the open. This country needs fundamental educational reform. What better place to start.

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