Sunday, 13 January 2013

Devastating statistics

From a particularly silly article by Charlotte Leslie in The Observer today:

Devastating statistics show that only 16% of students eligible for free school meals go on to university, as opposed to 96% of private school students. 

Despite doing as well as their privately educated peers at university, for students from state schools comparable academic performance does not mean equal access to the professions – they trail by a gap of up to 15%. And if they do reach the professions, they earn up to £3,000 less. So in terms of social mobility, we cannot afford to assume that a university education is the great leveller.

So we are to understand that the purpose of university is to enable students to get well paid jobs. 

Someone commented very wisely on this article:

Intelligence is largely inherited. That's not a racist statement, it's a scientific conclusion. There are numerous studies that have found this, although the degree of inheritability is in dispute. 

And intelligence is a useful thing in higher education. 

Why is inherited intelligence not mentioned when people talk about equality of opportunity or complain that too many High Court judges went to expensive schools or that not as many Pakistanis as Chinese get good GCSEs? 

And what is wrong with the idea of social hierarchy, come to that? It is inevitable, whether right or wrong.

I agree that intelligent children from poor backgrounds have a harder time. This too is inevitable but can and should be greatly ameliorated. They should be given greater life chances, though not by affirmative action or positive discrimination, but by good schools. 

I was an intelligent boy from a poor background but with highly intelligent parents. It was very easy for me to do well thanks to selective state education which is now disapproved of in the UK and largely abolished. My father, by contrast, had to leave school in 1933 at fourteen because his family needed him to earn a wage. But though there are many very intelligent and bookish children in poor families it is not true that intelligence is spread at random amongst the population or anything like at random. Nor is it good to have a society obsessed with getting on. 

The hugely wider opportunities in life which exist today for children of all backgrounds are the fruit of the unexpected economic miracle that happened in the developed world after 1950, a miracle that happened despite, not because of, socialism, the welfare state and public spending. In England these opportunities have been much curtailed by ending grammar schools (selective education), grammar schools which were the great achievement of a Conservative, R.A. Butler. This is why England is now ruled by people from elite backgrounds like Messrs. Cameron, Clegg and Miliband, not by people from obscure families in small towns.


  1. I agree with you. The structure now is artificial and in the over-all and long-run does more harm than good.

  2. Since when don't the Chinese get good grades? Are you sure about that?