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  • Technorati: graph / links

    How do we improve standards?


    by El Cid on 21st January, 2009 at 12:26 pm    

    Guest post

    The cause of social mobility overlaps with that of a progressive racial agenda. But it also transcends racial politics and is inextricably linked with education. Historically, and in less developed countries, access to education is the key to better social mobility.

    But where the provision of state education is a given, differences in the quality of education are paramount. Hence, the issue is closely aligned with the debate over private education and the extent to which it is deeply regressive institution.

    In view of the hugely disproportionate number of privately educated entrants at the top universities and the extent to which many of Britain’s top doctors, politicians, lawyers, broadcasters, etc also got a leg up thanks to a priviliged education, it is arguably the biggest barrier to social mobility in the UK. If you believe in the principle of equality of opportunity — i.e. if you are truly progressive — then better social mobility should be high up on your wish list.

    However, as the former Conservative Dominic Lawson argued in a well-written article this week, the only sure fire way to improve social mobility is to lower standards. What do you think?



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    45 Comments below   |   Add your own

    1. sofia — on 21st January, 2009 at 12:55 pm  

      It is not about lowering standards in state schools, it’s about improving standards and the level of expectation of pupils. When I was at school a long while ago, I had a truly inspirational teacher who made it seem possible for us to attain anything we wanted if we put the hard graft in…
      Yes, privately educated students get a better leg up in society, but it is patronising to those who aren’t privately educated to have standards lowered, as if we couldn’t achieve as much in our lives. Teachers need to instil in their pupils a sense of confidence that privately educated pupils have. It is also important to look at family and societal structures in hand with access to education.

    2. Chris E — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:03 pm  

      Yes, privately educated students get a better leg up in society, but it is patronising to those who aren’t privately educated to have standards lowered, as if we couldn’t achieve as much in our lives

      The argument is about actual achievements not capabilities given the same opportunities.

      Of course, the answer to social mobility is simple - reintroduce Grammar Schools.

    3. sofia — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:16 pm  

      well lowering standards is not going suddenly create more achievements…

      and again, looking at education in isolation is not going to make a jot of difference

    4. Chris E — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:25 pm  

      and again, looking at education in isolation is not going to make a jot of difference

      Absent a magnitude more state intervention, education is still the one thing that is directly affected by government policy.

    5. Roger — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:30 pm  

      Some people prefer equality to social mobility.

    6. soru — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:39 pm  

      Actually, to raise social mobility, you want Secondary Moderns, not grammar schools.

      Social mobility gets counted on a zero-sum basis, one person becoming richer and more successful counts for nothing unless they pass someone else on the way down. So long as general prosperity is rising, it is the minority of people coming down who determine the measured level of social mobility.

      In the days of Secondary Modern schools, it did happen that a middle class child would fail their 11+, go to a school that made no attempt to educate them, and end up working in a factory.

      These days, if you are born middle class, you are not going to end up in such a school. Pretty much the only way you will leave the class you were born in is if you get a peerage, found a company, or become a hopeless addict unable to hold down a salaried job.

      Exactly contrary to what Lawson argues, maintaining class privilieges trumps standards and efficiencies every time: a solicitor, teacher or manager who is slightly slow will be kept on, at the cost of less work getting done. When was the last time you heard of someone being sacked for a poor performance evaluation?

      (This may be a differnce between the UK and US, if House and Death of a Salesman are true to life there).

      If you really want social mobility, introduce a 21+, a 31+, a 41+ and a 51+, and use the results to work out which cleaners should be bankers, and which bankers should be cleaners.

      Or just legalise heroin, including advertising: the measured result would be about the same.

    7. Jai — on 21st January, 2009 at 1:49 pm  

      When was the last time you heard of someone being sacked for a poor performance evaluation?

      Happens a lot in hypercompetitive industries like consulting and investment banking, especially if “business performance improvment” and/or redundancy drives are underway.

    8. soru — on 21st January, 2009 at 2:12 pm  

      Fair point.

      Professional sportsmen are another exception, where things do run on something much more like the idealised US model: if you suck, you get relegated.

    9. persephone — on 21st January, 2009 at 2:16 pm  

      El Cid

      Out of interest is this for an essay?

    10. cjcjc — on 21st January, 2009 at 2:26 pm  

      Boring starting point I know, but - improve/enforce discipline.

    11. Shamit — on 21st January, 2009 at 2:42 pm  

      “It is not about lowering standards in state schools, it’s about improving standards and the level of expectation of pupils.”

      Well said.

    12. Hackette — on 21st January, 2009 at 4:29 pm  

      Lowering standards is never going to work and is offensive because it assumes that state school kid doesn’t have aspirations.

      Kids at state schools need to be given encouragement and pushed to dream, that doesn’t mean targets and grades, its about actually finding out what motivates that child and nurturing that interest.

      It’s also about telling kids the importance of forward planning - that is a hge part of education that is completely missed out at the beginning. Planning is a skill and should be included from a very young age.

      A big thing to ask of the state system, yes, but shouldn’t matter. Anyone who works legitimately and pays their taxes, has already paid for their kids education and schools should be well enough resourced to provide that kind of environment.

    13. Katy Newton — on 21st January, 2009 at 5:33 pm  

      the only sure fire way to improve social mobility is to lower standards

      I hope not. I would like to think that the best way to improve social mobility is to move away from the academia-centric mindset that we have, and the idea that everyone from customer service managers to office juniors must have a degree to get anywhere, and towards the idea that skilled work is worthy of recognition and respect whatever field it’s in.

    14. Roger — on 21st January, 2009 at 7:40 pm  

      “When was the last time you heard of someone being sacked for a poor performance evaluation?

      Happens a lot in hypercompetitive industries like …. investment banking”

      Which no doubt explains the flourishing state of banking.

    15. El Cid — on 21st January, 2009 at 8:20 pm  

      Persephone: No!!
      Is my writing style that turgid?
      Oh dear. Maybe you better not answer that. I went to state school and it might hurt my sensibilities.

    16. persephone — on 21st January, 2009 at 10:14 pm  

      El Cid

      Did not going to state school ‘toughen’ you up?

      I went to state school too & found I sometimes had an advantage (because of it) over others I worked with who were from private school. Sometimes its better to look at a so called ‘weakness’ as a strength

    17. El Cid — on 21st January, 2009 at 10:36 pm  

      Hmmmm Thanks.
      But this is not about us but about equality of opportunity and educational standards.

    18. Shamit — on 21st January, 2009 at 11:09 pm  

      State schools should be better than private schools. They should have the best infrastrcuture and support services that money could buy and they should be able to attract and inspire the best minds to come and teach.

      But it should not be a post code lottery.

      Teachers should be paid as well as MPs and Doctors and Dentists. And the best of the lot should be given salaries as high as those earned by mandarins in Whitehall. We need to find the money. If we can find money for GPs and MPs - hell yeah we need to find money for teachers because they nurture the future of our country.

      In a knowledge based economy, a country without a strong manufacturing base needs to depend on the creative and innovative minds of our people to create companies such as Google in this country. And, children irrespective of their socio-economic status must have the opportunities to be whatever they dream to be.

      But teachers must teach rather than trying to tell the Government which war the country should fight or not. And teachers definitely should not mind teaching children to be patriotic. Teachers must not tell children from State schools that they would not fit in Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard. But on the other hand we must not ask teachers to be social workers or take over parental responsibilities.

      One of the reasons US flourishes is even today the vast number of the freshman class in Ivy league insitutions come from the American public school system. That was the case when Barrack and Michelle Obama went to college or when Clintons went to school. I would like to see that happen in Britain.

      The easiest path towards social mobility is education and opportunities to succeed for all those who choose to grab those opportunities.

      However, it must be understood, that parents and family atmosphere play a key role in driving children. One of the main reasons South Asian children and Chinese Children do well and usually are more successful than their parents’ generation is because of the parental guidance and pressure to succeed.

    19. persephone — on 21st January, 2009 at 11:27 pm  

      “One of the main reasons South Asian children and Chinese Children do well and usually are more successful than their parents’ generation is because of the parental guidance and pressure to succeed.

      ” we must not ask teachers to be social workers or take over parental responsibilities.”

      Agreed there can sometimes be too much focus on education having to instill the value & discipline required to succeed.

    20. persephone — on 21st January, 2009 at 11:31 pm  

      El Cid @ 17

      I mention it because you’ve several times introduced public/private school on posts not covering education inc ascribing something to a writer on the basis if their being from private school

    21. persephone — on 21st January, 2009 at 11:57 pm  

      There are a number of other factors, apart from educational standards as to why private education gains results:

      - children at private school also have tutors on top of going to a private school
      - they have more parental & peer pressure
      - they feel they need to succeed because their parents have paid for it
      - they also learn how to behave in a way that is considered ‘the form’ so they will fit in within a certain work environment

      So yes we can increase educational standards in state schools but there are other factors which are not so easily replicated

    22. Shamit — on 22nd January, 2009 at 12:35 am  

      Perse

      Point taken but I think family support and guidance can go a long way.

    23. shariq — on 22nd January, 2009 at 1:38 am  

      Malcolm Gladwell has reported on some interesting stuff lately on improving govt schools ( in America but its applicable here as well)

      For instance, the idea that its difficult to figure out whose going to be a good teacher before hiring but that it becomes easy to seperate out good from bad after a few months on the job.

      In other words make entering teaching open to anyone with a degree. But then use performance evaluations to weed out the bad ones after a year. Perhaps reduce the cost or have the govt pick up the tab for the 1 year of teacher training.

      There’s also the idea of state school children falling behind private school peers during the holiday. Therefore following the model of the KIPP schools by having children stay in school for longer hours and or with shorter holidays.

    24. persephone — on 22nd January, 2009 at 10:04 am  

      Quality of teachers is paramount but it should be before they start work. It needs to be at the point of undertaking a teaching degree/conversion qualification. Because of the dearth of teachers, it was made easier to gain a teaching degree.

      My friend’s daughters go to an urban state primary where some of the teachers cannot write a grammatical sentence, give written instructions to parents that confuse adults (how they communicate & teach children is worrying) & conduct parents evenings which give more concern. The poorly performing teachers languish in positions for too long - one particular teacher had the reputation of her form year being an educational write off - it was only after many years she left…a transfer to a secondary school!

      OFSTED marks show this school to be the best in the area - heaven knows what the other schools are like

    25. El Cid — on 22nd January, 2009 at 4:42 pm  

      I know you did Perse, but one thing I do not lack is confidence.
      As I said, the issue of public/private education is a subject close to my heart. I see it as a fundamental flaw in the self-styled progressive middle class.
      Too often I hear people pontificate from on high and I can’t help wondering: what the fuck do they REALLY know when they haven’t got their hands dirty.
      I have also come across many outwardly liberal folk who turn fundamentally regressive when it comes to the education of their children.
      I believe private education to be a morally bankrupt institution and, yet, I cannot eevr justify compromising standards for the sake of the lowest common denominator.
      I am disappointed that none of the privately educated Pickled editorial board members have commented on this thread, even though they have done me the veritable honour of posting my article.
      Maybe they think they are onto a hiding to nothing. I hope not.
      But whatever the reason, all they achieve by ignoring the dilemma I have outlined is to leave behind a throbbing and gaping wound.
      Shame, I was hoping for some new thinking.

      P.S.
      Shamit: I largely concur with what you are saying. But can we get there without an element of socal engineering, e.g. reserving more places at the top unis for state school kids without getting the outwardly progressive middle classes to conspire against it or abolishing all private schools?

      Also, I think you exaggerate the benefits of the U.S. system. A disproportionate number of privately educuted freshmen also attend Ivy League colleges.

      It’s funny how the stats are nor more freely available; how there isn’t greater transparency to quantify the link between private education and the ruling classes of this country. I would imagine that that is because it is a polemical subject, suggesting there is an unspoken Tory-labour conspiracy to defend these privileges.

    26. Don — on 22nd January, 2009 at 5:42 pm  

      As you might expect, I agree that private schools are a huge barrier to social equality, not so much because they provide a better education (which they may well do for a variety of reasons mostly connected with cash and resources) but more because of the culture they foster which encourages like extending a helping hand to like. In many cases the motive for paying serious cash for a private education is not better academic standard but achieving access to the network and aquiring the little tell-tale signs of mutual recognition

      I think Katy is right that we define success or failure largely on academic grounds. In principle we may claim to value vocational education as much, but nobody really believes it - least of all the kids. By the age of 11 or 12 kids know they are trapped in an institution which daily reminds them they are second rate. Even a good school with dedicated teachers has to swim upstream aginst a system which places most value on those likely to get good exam results. League tables don’t help.

      We need early intervention so that kids who are stuggling with basic literacy and numeracy (and social skills/behavioural issues) are given the intensive in-put they need before the age of seven. It may cost a bit but in the long term will save money and more than money.

      We need to find out what a kid is good at and seek ways to make them even better at it rather than forcing them into a mould. By the time they are 14 many, many kids would benefit from spending 2 or 3 days a week getting real, practical training and coming into school to maintain key skills. Again, in principal this is not a new or contentious idea, but it isn’t happening (AFAIK) on a significant scale.

      Oh, and I absolutely agree with Shamit that teachers should be paid vastly more.

    27. Shamit — on 22nd January, 2009 at 5:54 pm  

      El CID -

      I went to a private school in the UK and I went to a private University in the United States as well — so I disagree with your statement

      “I believe private education to be a morally bankrupt institution ”

      “A disproportionate number of privately educuted freshmen also attend Ivy League colleges.”

      Statistics show that majority come from the US public school system — yes they might come from Belair academies or suburbs of Boston or Long Island in New York or West Palm Beach — but thats post code lottery.

      The advantages of being born to upper middle class or even rich and professional parents should not make us denounce the children. They did not choose where they were born.

      Trying to bring about a class warfare around education is regressive. And as I have also said parents make a huge difference. Most Asian families and Orientals in this country make sure their children do well in academia and become professionals — irrespective of their own socio-economic backgrounds

    28. Shuggy — on 22nd January, 2009 at 6:20 pm  

      So yes we can increase educational standards in state schools but there are other factors which are not so easily replicated

      Like the fact that state schools have to take everyone; private schools do not. It is the most obvious and decisive difference between the two yet in internet discussions like this, it is hardly ever remarked upon. Instead we get people pontificating about the quality of teaching, resources, selection, aspiration… The usual guff, in other words.

    29. Jai — on 22nd January, 2009 at 6:24 pm  

      However, as the former Conservative Dominic Lawson argued in a well-written article this week, the only sure fire way to improve social mobility is to lower standards. What do you think?

      I’d have to disagree with this. I think the only surefire way to improve social mobility is to maximise teaching standards, and for the people wishing to become upwardly mobile to maximise their academic qualifications, professional performance in relation to their peers, interpersonal skills and (in the social sense) political acumen.

    30. Jai — on 22nd January, 2009 at 6:32 pm  

      ^^^Getting the appropriate support, guidance and encouragement from parents and any other older relatives/members of their close social circle would also help enormously, of course.

    31. El Cid — on 22nd January, 2009 at 8:40 pm  

      Shamit, this is just for you:
      http://tinyurl.com/d5ae68
      :)

    32. Shamit — on 22nd January, 2009 at 8:44 pm  

      My reason for going to the US was have the real campus experience and live in the States for a while as well as get an opportunity to get a real liberal arts education and decide on my major later.

      But thanks anyway, I graduated from Uni almost 15 years ago when there was hardly any British trend there.

    33. El Cid — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:04 pm  

      Jai,
      The problem with #29 is that it is ultimately meaningless.
      Sure, maximise (overall) teaching standards to boost social mobility — of course, how could anyone disagree with that.
      And yet, there comes a point of diminishing returns.
      You can raise the state average standard until you are blue in the face, but the raison d’etre of private schools will always be to provide people with money with something extra. And that “something” extra can then have massive social consequences.

      As Shuggy has — I think — alluded to, we need more than guff to address these vested middle class interests. A good start would be to recognise that it is deeply regressive state of affairs.

    34. El Cid — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:05 pm  

      Shamit, I hope the link put a smile on your face too.
      In any case, my initial point about the U.S. system was based on a straw poll of my office, which these days has a yankee majority.

      If you have access to stats — as you mentioned earlier — I would like to see them. I think it would further the debate. I only wish we had proper private school-university stats for the UK.

    35. halima — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:22 pm  

      Education is something close to my heart - because it’s meant to teach us to be more open and inquisitive and accepting of others - and yet what it tends to be is a marker for social distinction. It shouldn’t be.

      It’s not about class, sure, but i think the author of this post might be hitting on something that perhaps is tricky to articulate. … I’ll have a go.

      The sons and daughters of well-to-do families shouldn’t be penalized for being born into privilege - but would be good is better reflection from them all round on what their privilege means and buys them. They are also the ones responsible for setting policies across the country so a better grounding in reality of ordinary life would be quite useful. Many of my friends from privileged families are wonderful people, full of wit , charm, intelligence etc, but their interactions with say, anyone who lives in a council estate is quite limited - sometimes zero. Is that a good thing or bad thing, i don’t know, but i think life experience all round should be wider than just the family you happen to be born into.

      To me this privilege means that families with more income - on the whole, can spend resources , financial and cultural on their children’s formal school environment and the informal one.

      It means a parent having the time to teach skills at home - and enhancing what is already offered at school, and the parent doesn’t have to be juggling 2-3 part time jobs to make ends meet.

      It means parents who can confidently negotiate the education system and ask the school to be more accountable to them - so in effect that child is definitely not neglected in class if the pressures of teaching are too high - which they always are.

      Then there is the issue of state schools and private ones - the issue isn’t about standards at all, it’s about resources, surely.

      And someone mentioned teachers - it is the single important factor that affects the quality of teaching. Micheal Barber did some interesting research on global education systems for McKinsey which shows this quite well.

      The current education systems drums into them the need to learn early and fast. Yet we also know in Sweden they don’t bother to teach a child any reading or writing until at least 7 and Sweden has one of the best education systems in the world.

    36. halima — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:23 pm  

      On a personal note, I would always want my child to go to a state school because i don’t want them to be growing up with the social values of a narrow privileged social set. I might then have to weight that up against my child’s safety - and i know this from personal experience that my school years were full of violence - but even so , i think i would still want my kids to be grounded in real life. To me academic qualifications are not as important as children knowing how to learn and having the confidence to keep on learning. I’d actively want my children not to replicate any perceptions that private schools or Ivy League universities are better than other schools and universities. I’d pro-actively encourage them to see such institutions have more resources - and so little is down to nurture alone, but more environmental.

    37. El Cid — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:50 pm  

      Hmmmmm. I don’t disagree with you Halima. Your points are well articulated. But it’s not what I am driving at.

      I have many privately educated friends (Yeah, yeah “Some of my best friends are …” and all that jazz)
      They are great friends. Well rounded, beautiful people. I wish I had known them earlier in my life. They are my uni mates. It is a privilege to count them among my friends. I couldn’t do without them.

      There’s nothing personal here (well, apart from the fact that my eldest is due to go to secondary school next year and I have gone through a tortuous decision making process).

      But it is an inescapable observation that our ruling classes, those with influence, are dominated by people with a certain type of schooling. As The Dells once sang (a classic 1980 soul number): It’s “All About The Paper.” That’s it. So what we gonna do about it?

    38. Shamit — on 22nd January, 2009 at 9:54 pm  

      El CID

      I wasn’t good enough to go to proper Ivy Leagues but I will get the stats for you and the link did bring a smile on my face.

      Halima

      As usual salient and thoughtful comments.

      I agree with you completely — many of the people I went to school with had no idea about real world. But here again as you said families and parents make a big difference on grounding one’s feet and make a child understand the values.

      “To me academic qualifications are not as important as children knowing how to learn and having the confidence to keep on learning.”

      That is brilliant.

      But I think the state schools can be and should be better. And as said @18, teachers and resources can go a long way in making schools safer and better environment for children to learn in and inculcate the thirst for knowledge and developing their individual talents.

      Teachers can help people dream irrespective of whether they are in state or private schools. But we need to pay them as well as we pay our Doctors and GPs and others.

      But social mobility is also dependent on having parents who love a child and care for them and want them to succeed. As they say bringing a child into this world is easy but becoming a good parent is truly tough.

    39. halima — on 23rd January, 2009 at 4:06 am  

      eL cID

      “But it is an inescapable observation that our ruling classes, those with influence, are dominated by people with a certain type of schooling”

      i think there’s a lot of change already happening .. And it’s changing because the world is changing so for example, if you want to select the best graduates that say excel in creative digital media or something - you’re not going to look at the obvious places that have been traditionally regarded as high performing over-all.

      It’s interesting observation to me also that Ivy League colleges are necessarily better - and let in better students. Taking into account there are lots of students at age 18 who make excellent grades - and there aren’t enough places to take them all in - so a secondary selection process must be underway. And oh how this continues into the workplace and promotions.

      I did go to a good university and then i went on to another that had less snob appeal and it was interesting to see the difference. The first gives others the perception that you might be ‘good enough’ whatever this means and a springboard into competitive professions - but i actually learned more at the second institution in terms of pushing the boat out and looking at post-structuralist writers that challenge even the way knowledge is taught in mainstream colleges. So to me , it’s about the type of values you want to receive from higher education, not the quality of higher education that one can receive from a ivy league versus non -ivy league.

      “Teachers can help people dream irrespective of whether they are in state or private schools. But we need to pay them as well as we pay our Doctors and GPs and others.”

      Excellent point, Shamit, one that bugs me so much that we don’t pay them well enough but we are happy to trust the future of our children in their hands. I also think, though, in teaching there is a gender snobbery, and because teaching itself has become feminised there has been a corresponding perception that it’s not a privileged profession.

      And yeah - bringing up kids is the hardest trick to master in my mind - and not one that school or college prepares you well for - they are too busy teaching us to be competitive, make more money, not all bad - but judging by the way our children get neglected, i am not sure this should be the premium.

    40. zaffer — on 23rd January, 2009 at 10:41 am  

      The cause of social mobility overlaps with that of a progressive racial agenda.- hmmm, not sure what you mean. I would say kick-starting social mobility is linked closely with rising meritocracy and that a truely meritocratic society will improve representation. ‘ A progressive racial agenda’ i assume you mean that a place where colour/ethnic make-up etc would not determine what a person can or can not achieve. But barriers faced by BME communities are different to the white community. I agree that there are similarities facing working class white and black communities but at there are still prejudices that exist that go beyond just social mobility.

    41. El Cid — on 23rd January, 2009 at 1:03 pm  

      Zaffer it seems to me that you agree with the comment “The cause of social mobility overlaps with that of a progressive racial agenda” even thiough seem reluctant to admit it.
      For something to overlap doesn’t mean that it is a perfect fit. Think of a Venn diagram, or a partial eclipse.

    42. El Cid — on 24th January, 2009 at 4:02 pm  

      Cowards

    43. Ravi Naik — on 24th January, 2009 at 6:21 pm  

      There’s nothing personal here (well, apart from the fact that my eldest is due to go to secondary school next year and I have gone through a tortuous decision making process).

      Oh, the irony. :)

    44. Ravi Naik — on 24th January, 2009 at 6:24 pm  

      But barriers faced by BME communities are different to the white community.

      Is it really that different?

    45. El Cid — on 24th January, 2009 at 8:49 pm  

      #43
      What, if you can’t beat them, join them?
      It has crossed my mind. It makes me feel sick in the pit of my stomach.
      But it’s not quite like that.
      I managed to resist that temptation.



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