Social mobility`s decrease has little to do with “character and resilience”.
With state education having improved exponentially since I started teaching in the 70s, it is sad to see it being still treated like a political football, and even sadder to witness Labour doing much of the kicking. Gove, with his bigoted and ideological ideas on the subject, was expected to ignore the empirical evidence, and didn`t disappoint; more hard-working and committed teachers than ever before, better trained and qualified to deal with the youth of modern Britain, with improved results at GCSE and A-level, could not prevent the Tories, with their unprincipled and blinkered Lib Dem allies, complicit in all things Cameron, from attempting to undo the good work of the last twenty years. Gove`s assessment reforms aimed at undermining achievement in the state sector, removed the creation by experienced educationalists of a more level examination playing field, and attempted to decrease social mobility even further by extolling the virtues of private education through superior examination results.
The initial response from Labour was muted, and more was expected following the promotion of Tristram Hunt to the shadow education post. In fact, there has been a deterioration, with his ludicrous ideas on the need for teachers to be re-licensed every so often, his support for Performance Related Pay, and, of course, the teachers` oath. Not content with recently making a speech which, whilst intending to criticise private schools for failing to improve their relationships with state schools, actually ended up implying teaching in the private sector was superior per se, Hunt and other experts in "think tanks" now ascribe the decrease in social mobility to state school pupils lacking "character and resilience".
Anyone with knowledge and experience in a state school knows that state pupils constantly display the ability to bounce back from setbacks. How often have they had to show resilence in the face of assessment "goalposts" being frequently moved, and their excellent examination results being crticised and challenged by politicians from all parties? Then there`s the Education Maintenance Allowance being removed, 6th form courses being dropped because of lack of government funding, university fees being hiked, and the ever-present preference shown by the so-called top universities for students from the private sector, despite empirical evidence showing how state-educated undergraduates do better at university than students educated at Hunt`s "schools of character", with similar A-level grades. They do not lack the "courage to continue" after being knocked back, and politicians who think otherwise need to pander less to their prejudices, and instead, spend more time in state schools, and not in the heads` studies or government meetings either, but in the classrooms! It is nonsense to think that social mobility will increase, and more top jobs will go to state educated graduates just as soon as state school teachers learn from their “betters” in private schools, and teach “character and resilience”.
The pre-Gove level playing field on assessment needs to be returned for a start, if any politician in the next government is serious about increasing social mobility. Hunt`s opinion on the priority given by the Oxbridge colleges to applicants from the private sector is that the latter perform better in the interview situation, so sees advice on this issue from teachers in the private schools as being essential. Yet more nonsense! With 7% of pupils in this country attending private schools, the solution is simple; legislation is needed to prevent any university having more than 7% of its undergraduates from the private sector. There was a time in the not so distant past when equality of opportunity mattered in the Labour party; proving that it still does now would not be electorally disastrous!
Of course, remedies like the Sure Start centres of Blair`s government, and the ending of unpaid internships, will help too, but as long as the universities are allowed to pander to their prejudices, social mobility will continue to decrease.