Every little boy and girl …

… that’s born into the world alive
Goes either to a proper school or is a Conservative.

Not quite the original; but close enough for the pain to last all through lfe.

Now turn to the New York Times. Brush past the Big Stuff — Gilad Shalit (who is just the latest in an endless series of human counters on the draughts board), the €uro (which makes news even in NYC), the odd suspicion that Gholam Shakuri (the alleged plotter to do us the Saudi Ambassaor in DC) might not be all the securocrats allege. Suppressing a yawn, even shimmy past the small stuff: the Dale Farm clearance gets a mention, and there’s a continuing spat over Norman Mailer’s apartment.

In passing, did anyone expect Mailer to go quietly or “gentle”, when, even posthumously, he could rankle, and rage, rage against the dying of the light?

Eventually we arrive at Nicholas D. Kristof’s Op-Ed piece: Occupy the Classroom. He begins with the obvious:

Occupy Wall Street is shining a useful spotlight on one of America’s central challenges, the inequality that leaves the richest 1 percent of Americans with a greater net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

Well, Nick: there’s a lot more where that came from. But we’ll settle for your gross simplification as a starter.

Then Kristof gets it:

Most of the proposed remedies involve changes in taxes and regulations, and they would help. But the single step that would do the most to reduce inequality has nothing to do with finance at all. It’s an expansion of early childhood education.

Huh? That will seem naïve and bizarre to many who chafe at inequities and who think the first step is to throw a few bankers into prison. But although part of the problem is billionaires being taxed at lower rates than those with more modest incomes, a bigger source of structural inequity is that many young people never get the skills to compete. They’re just left behind.

That should be beyond any dispute. Leaving aside the nature vs nurture debate, whether one takes the age of five, six (as Lenin did), or seven (as the Jesuits do), it is a case of Give me the child and I’ll show you the man.

Attitudes to health, society and literacy are already established by that early age. An open-minded child, prone to asking awkward questions and getting answers will already be showing likely signs. So, too, may malice and spite.

This isn’t an educational or pedagogic matter: it’s an economic one. As Kristof recognises:

Maybe it seems absurd to propose expansion of early childhood education at a time when budgets are being slashed. Yet James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, has shown that investments in early childhood education pay for themselves. Indeed, he argues that they pay a return of 7 percent or more — better than many investments on Wall Street.

“Schooling after the second grade plays only a minor role in creating or reducing gaps,” Heckman argues in an important article this year in American Educator. “It is imperative to change the way we look at education. We should invest in the foundation of school readiness from birth to age 5.”

Note that Heckman is an economist. That article is deep, searching and demanding; but it has a simple thesis:

A large body of data from economics, biology, and psychology shows that educational equality is more than a social justice imperative; it is an economic imperative that has far-reaching implications for our nation. My work has focused on the economic value of human capital development, specifically the value of providing resources to disadvantaged children and their families in an attempt to equalize the children’s possibilities for social and economic success.

Indisputable stuff. But, in Malcolm’s mind, it doesn’t stop there; and it isn’t merely a matter of putting resources into early education — though, if the investment doesn’t start there, the task of enriching the later years becomes progressively difficult and eventually impossible. The child who leaves junior school without the ability to read and number fluently will need vast, even unfeasible later inputs of remedial education (another term that has been unfairly soiled by decades of misuse).

No: once the early-educational “push” has been applied, the impetus should continue. Often for good, if barely-definable reasons.

Thanks, RAB!

When Britain went to war in 1939 barely a fifth of the age-group benefitted from any post-elementary education. Most children (and at fourteen we are talking “children” — so let’s have no nonsense about “young adults”) went into work. Work. Not training. Not apprenticeships.

Contrary to the general belief, the 1944 Act did not endorse the tripartite system: it merely required:

instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes.

It was the guidance and circulars of R.A.Butler’s newly-minted Ministry of Education that proposed the tripartitie system, the system that, with rare exception, we did not get, and for which many of us still hanker. The tripartite system recognised that the post-War world would be different: more egalitarian, more opportunistic, more “meritocratic” (a word that wouldn’t be coined until 1958). These were regarded as “goods”.

Along with electrification, mains sewage, and the NHS, the ’44 Act did more to change British society, and break the class system than anything since the Black Death.

So to Wells County Primary School in the early 1950s. Malcolm’s class was larger than any that would be accepted in a well-run junior school. The teachers were, without exception, well-meaning but untrained ladies of a certain age and disposition. Yet, out of that class, half “passed” the all-important 11+ and went to grammar school. Somehow the statistical probability of 0.2 had been improved to 0.5.

Random chance? Possibly. Ambitious parenting? Certainly. Rising to the challenge? Unquestionably.

Which is why we should be considering the consequences of fragmenting the English school system.

We now have a whole raft of school-types. Each new Secretary of State is required to have a “vision”, and to implement that prejudice by some “reform” or initiative”. The latest of which is the “free school”.


In Star Wars, the Govians are a “sentient species from the Govia system“. And we thought we had problems with John “Vulcan” Redwood.

In Gove’s Brave New World, any combine of parents, teachers, charities and businesses can set up their little educational empire. The original good intentions of a non-selective entry seem to have been watered-down, even to the extent that the main author of the free school notion, Ian Craig, promptly bunked off from the job.

Memo to all:

  1. Govians require free schools to succeed.
  2. Parents equate exam results with “success”.
  3. Over-subscribed school select.
  4. Nice bourgeois kids do better in the bourgeois exam mill.
  5. Does Malcolm need to draw a picture for you?
If your problem is (5) above, then the Guardian has already etched-a-sketch:
The first 24 free schools opened last month. They are intended to tackle divides in England’s education system, including a concentration of the weakest schools in the poorest areas. But analysis commissioned by the Guardian has found that the first 24 are tilted towards areas dominated by middle-class households.
My, my! What a surprise!

And, let’s not forget that the “right of appeal” has effectively been abolished:

… the education bill will abolish the right of parents and students to complain to the local government ombudsman and instead replace it with a procedure via Michael Gove, the education secretary. Even worse, The chief school’s adjudicator’s powers to investigate and order changes to school admissions policies are being greatly reduced (despite the fact that that 92% of the 387 cases considered by Ian Craig last year were from parents) and compulsory admissions forums are to be scrapped, giving academies, faith schools and free schools the right to operate their own admission policies rather than those set by the local education authority across an area.

Anything doctrinaire or centralist there? Hmmm?

Malcolm awaits the return of sanity, expressed to him, in full frustrated irony, by one of the wisest top officials of ILEA, arguing for a truly comprehensive and egalitarian system. Understand the message here, and you’ll see why Margaret Thatcher abolished ILEA.:

What we need, in any area, is the least number of schools, well-resourced, and all good.


Has any one noticed that, even among the Tories and their LibDim compadres, there is a distinct division between the “humans” and the de-haut-en-bas extra-terrestrials?

But, of course!

Well, does it mirror the divide between the private/public school lot and the others?

For example, for all their many faults, the likes of William Hague (Wath-upon-Dearne Grammar School), Vince Cable (Nunthorpe Grammar) and Eric Pickles (Greenhead Grammar, Keighley) do seem to be the proper, human side of the species divide.


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Filed under broken society, democracy, economy, education, equality, History, social class, Wells-next-the-Sea, working class

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