Thursday, July 03, 2008

Schools and society

click to enlarge
British society is riven by inequalities that have their roots in the vastly unequal distribution of wealth. In recent years these inequalities have become entrenched, and social mobility is now worse than it was forty years ago. After World War Two the public education system was reorganised, with the result that bright children from poor backgrounds found it easier to get into higher education. This was good for society, good for those individuals, and good for the economy because the people's potential was better realised.

Today, however, that progress has not only stalled, it has gone into reverse. At the root of the problem is Britain's class system. Those with money, position and power believe it is theirs by right, that they deserve their abundance, and they are increasingly reluctant to share it - except with their offspring. So, one of the tools they use to achieve their selfish ends is the education system . The richest segment of society, by and large, educates its children in private schools. They rationalise this decision by saying that they can buy a better education than the free state schools provide. In fact, their money buys social position, private schools being more adept at giving pupils the qualifications necessary for higher education, particularly at the elite universities, and entry into the professions. A group of those who aspire to private education, but who can't afford to pay for it, seek a grammar school education. These state-funded selective schools cream off higher attaining pupils at age 11, educate them separately from the rest of their age group, and aim, at the end of their school time, to place them in the better universities and ultimately, the better jobs.

Many don't see a problem with this. I do. The result of this social and educational apartheid is that the remainder of the country's children - in fact the vast majority - receive a poorer education than they might otherwise, and are denied the life-chances of the more affluent. Many intelligent children who would benefit from a university education don't get it because their places are taken by less bright (but better qualified) pupils from private and grammar schools. The nation as a whole suffers socially and economically from the depredations of these odious institutions. Those who do get to higher education from state schools demonstrate, by the quality of their degrees, that they and their education are in no way inferior to their more favoured colleagues, but, there are far fewer than there should be, particularly in the elite group of universities. Some of us expected a Labour government, particularly one that achieved three successive terms of office, to deal with this pressing issue. How naive we were!

Today's photograph prompted this diatribe. It shows the public library in the village of Wainfleet All Saints, Lincolnshire. This was originally a school, built in 1484 by Bishop Waynflete of Winchester, who also founded Magdalen College, Oxford. At a time when England's schools were all privately financed, Wainfleet fed pupils to its Oxford college. However, from 1877 until 1933 it was a selective grammar school, and is still called "the old grammar school" by those who remember that period. Interestingly, from 1951 to 1966 it was a Secondary Modern School - an establishment for all those pupils who did not attend a grammar or private school, but no one ever calls it by that less elevated name! It became what must be one of the most ancient public libraries in the country in 1968. Mmmm, on second thoughts, perhaps there is a future for those grammar and private schools after all!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 15mm (30mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On