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Take note, Fiona Millar – you can’t close the class divide by closing private schools

30 January 2014

11:19 AM

30 January 2014

11:19 AM

If there was a coalition to keep the poor down in Britain, Fiona Millar would be its chairman. If a wicked emperor were to seize Britain and want to make sure the rich held all the best jobs, he’d set up a system where there was a direct link between wealth and quality of education. He’d smile with evil content at what Chris Cook has revealed as the ‘graph of doom’ which shows such a relationship in British state schools.


So we have designed a system of near-perfect unfairness. And yet, the people who are supposedly against inequality ignore this problem completely – and instead focus their ire on those reforming these state schools.

For reasons that I have never been able to work out, Fiona Millar has become the queen of the status quo in British state education – that is to say, a system which makes sure the poorest kids get the worse schools. She was on the radio today again, making out that Britain’s problem is that our private schools are the best in the world. She said how well Finland did to ‘get rid of their private schools’ (that’s untrue) and reluctantly conceded it would be tough to abolish them in Britain. But she had nothing to say about the state system.

Britain runs an appalling, almost sadistic system where the richest (those who live in the leafiest areas) get the best state education, and those in sink estates get sink schools. You’d think  the left would be angry about this, but many of the articulate campaigners (like Millar) are blinded to this by their ideology. So rather than worry about how to raise standards at the bottom, they want to attack the top.

The funding gap, she told Radio 4’s Today programme, is massive: £6,000 for state school and £15,000 for private. Again, if she was focused on the problem facing ordinary working class children she may note that the state system funding per child can vary from £3,000 to £18,000. But as Department for Education research has shown that there is (in the words of the report’s author, Deloitte) ‘no correlation at all between the level of per pupil funding and educational outcomes’. And here’s the graph that proves it:-

Funding and results

We learned, during that Radio 4 interview, Millar that has apparently written to newspaper editors ask if their kids go to private school. Had she included me in her little inquisition, I’d be able to say that my boys are state-educated. But only in her strange black-and-white world view does that put me on the side of the working man. I’m lucky enough to have been able to afford a house in a part of London where the state schools are excellent. (And make no mistake: Britain’s best state schools are as good, if not better, than private ones.)

I’ve never understood why so many on the left congratulate themselves for sending their kids to a state school, when they have played the system to make damn sure they got into one of the best state schools. And they were able to game the system because had money, connections or both. Is that really so better, or more ‘progressive’, than saving money and going without holidays (as Michael Gove’s parents did) in order send your kids to private schools?

The New Statesman has an excellent theme for its cover this week: the 7 per cent problem. Why are private school alumni at the top? The answer, as we all know, is that the yawning attainment gap between state and private. In an economy where what you learn dictates what your earn, this means a new class divide is being introduced. And it’s the Conservatives who want to close that gap; it’s Labour who want to ignore it. Something to bear in mind at election time.

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