Social mobility really is a force for good

I read an article on the Guardian website today by Zoe Williams in which she claimed that the idea of social mobility is not as brilliant as we all presume it to be. Williams claims that Nick Clegg’s form of social mobility, in which the cleverest children are allowed to achieve their full potential, is not progressive as it merely means that a minor reshuffle takes place in personnel between the classes and many of those who begin in the gutter are left there to rot.

However, having moved from a comprehensive school at primary level into a grammar school at secondary level and for sixth form, I must disagree with Williams, as I see grammar schools as an important tool for social mobility and look forward to the day when grammar schools can replace our private education system and allow an equality of opportunity to prevail in the British education system.

Firstly, let me say that I find private schools and education an abhorrent idea and one which in Britain allows for the continuation of the class system and the elite, ruling class in society. I wish to see all private education demolished and replaced with a system where no-one can pay for the privilege of a better education. It is this private school system which continues to allow Britain’s elite to keep the positions of politicians, the rich and the powerful within the upper classes and keeps bright members of the working-class out of these positions.

Nick Clegg has suggested that the brightest children, no matter their background, should be given the chance to achieve their full potential, and I believe that grammar schools are an effective vehicle for this development, taking from my own experience.

Williams asks how social mobility will help those who are not blessed with high levels of intelligence and I would hope that she is wrong to dismiss social mobility for this reason. As Tory MP Nadine Dorries has said recently, part of the problem with the current Tory leadership in government is that they do not understand the effects their policies would have on normal people, claiming that they would have no idea what the price of a pint of milk is. I agree with Dorries on this point (although little else), as the privileged background of a lot of Britain’s ruling classes have enabled them to achieve their positions of power with relatively little work and/or merit, a system that could be rectified by allowing even those who begin from humble backgrounds the same opportunities as those at the top.

The difference to society of having members of the working-class making it to the top and positions of power would be that these would hopefully remember their roots, and have a greater idea of the effects of their policies on ordinary people. Furthermore, it would hopefully be an ambition for these people to allow people from a similar background to their own to achieve what they have, rather than see the top jobs go to privately educated, rich kids with little experience of the real world.

I believe therefore that Williams is wrong to claim that social mobility does little to help the lower-classes in society, as it is only through furthering the aspirations and achievements of these classes that we will gain rulers who are prepared to fight for the rights of these people to equal opportunities in society.




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2 responses to “Social mobility really is a force for good

  1. Botzarelli

    I think the debate about social mobility is far too heavily infected with a focus on the composition of the elite. This might be a curious echo of trickle down economics – if you get more people from disadvantaged backgrounds there will be a consequent improvement in the overall opportunities for those with such backgrounds. It is curious because it tends to be latched onto with even more fervour by those on the left who would generally pooh pooh the idea of trickle down economics when expressed in terms of the value of allowing people to become rich and to keep for themselves more of that wealth which they could then recycle by spending on goods and services, investing in jobs etc.

    I don’t think it is necessary to go to war against private schools, grammar schools actually got very close to marginalising their importance and impact. From Wilson in 1964 through to major until 1997 every single British PM was grammar school educated. So broad reintroduction of grammar schools in itself would probably be enough to restart that trend. Most of the private day schools are basically fee paying grammar schools, mainly with lower entry standards than real grammar schools, and they’d struggle against free competition. The public schools are few in number and, eton and a few others aside, are generally not highly selective academically. They provide a particular ethos (and a generally overplayed old boys network effect) but nothing that the grammar school boys and girls can’t defeat.

    However, to bring back selection and for it to be both popular and effective in improving the most lives it needs to be designed on the basis of what is most beneficial to those who don’t go to the grammar schools. The model of grammar school academic education is easy and well-established. We don’t have a good model for properly educating the rest, the majority, to enable them to have decent lives and aspire to worthwhile and secure ordinariness. That doesn’t mean closing off rising to become PM but facilitating less glamorous achievement. They might then go into politics or whatever after having had a proper job…

  2. I agree that a necessary accompaniment to a reintroduction of grammar schools would be the facilitation of the furthering of those who aren’t selected. I think part of this has to return to the current lack of a manufacturing base to the British economy which needs to be resolved by injecting money into industry and then allowing school children who do not show academic promise to be allowed to work towards learning skills and gaining qualifications that would allow them to achieve jobs within industry where they can work effectively, rather than being pushed further and further through an education system that swamps them and leaves them at 18 with a bunch of near useless qualifications.

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