Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Education, education, education...

Those of you following my twitter feed (apparently there's 56 people following me - so when I tweet this I might get a few more readers) will have noticed I've been tweeting reasons why I think it's time to get rid of Labour. Some of these tweets when imported by facebook have led to some interesting debates there.

The most interesting, and yet fundamentally irrelevant one though, came from one friend who insists that it's unacceptable that the "privileged" are over represented in the Tory Shadow Cabinet. He based this on the assertion that several of them have been educated in private schools and then went onto Oxbridge (mostly Oxford). He clearly feels that being privately educated gives you an unfair start in life.

There's little doubt in one sense that it does - apart from anything else, look at the Labour cabinet that also has plenty of privately educated people - Straw, Harman, Balls for a start (Straw apparently attended Brentwood School on a scholarship/funded place - which only proves that simply looking at the school proves nothing about background!)

However, I'm not convinced that being privately educated makes all that much difference - after all, state education didn't exactly stop the Milliband brothers getting into the cabinet.

My son is four - he seems quite bright, though it's hard to be objective about this. If he ends being educated in our part of Essex, he has a number of good state schools to chose from, in Brentwood or in Chelmsford (or possibly in his case, Hornchurch). There is little doubt in my mind that the key influence in whether or not he goes to Oxbridge is not whether or not I pay for his education - but whether or not he has the natural ability to do so.

The reason for this is simple - the school really isn't the determining factor for most children in terms of their future - it's the parents. If you come from a background where university education is taken for granted, you most likely will end up going to university. If you come from a background where it isn't - then your chances of going are considerably lower (my paternal grandmother didn't go to university partly because she felt it wasn't for her - it was my father who was the first to go). I am the eldest of eight - the only two who don't have degrees are the two who aren't old enough to have graduated yet - and several of my siblings either have or are studying for postgraduate degrees. None of us went to posh schools - in fact my secondary school was particularly ordinary.

The state schools, such as King Edward VI in Chelmsford - that regularly rank at the top of the league tables and often send 10 to 20 to Oxbridge each year - are in one sense self perpetuating. The sort of parent that values academic excellence is more likely to send their child to that school than the parents who don't (and for what it's worth - an academic education isn't for every child - it may not be for mine).

So it's not the schools that matter - it's the parents. And if you're unfortunate not to have the "right" set of parents, you are doing to start at a disadvantage.