The myth of Britain's two-tier education system

By | July 27, 2015

On Broadcasting House, one of my favourite Radio 4 programmes, was this morning discussing a report (pdf) from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty commission. It finds, amongst other things, that ‘education at a private or a Grammar school is also associated with an increased chance of labour market success’ amongst dim kids. Who’d have thunk it?

During the subsequent R4 discussion, the Labour peer Joan Bakewell referred to a ‘two-tier education system’. It’s a familiar phrase and a familiar idea: that British kids are somehow cast in a binary divide: the privately-educated and the state-educated. You hear this analysis all the time. Only yesterday, my Spectator colleague Matthew Parris referred to the ‘the barriers of class privilege that our public-school system has built for its beneficiaries.’

Now, while it’s true that British private schools are the best in the world and that their pupils are lucky to be there it is emphatically untrue that this is the only way in which the better-off confer advantage to their children.

Just 7 per cent of pupils go to private school; the greater scandal lies in the state system that educates the other 93 per cent. It’s not one tier, but many: the richer you are, the better your exam results and, ergo, life chances. Last year, my colleagues in the Centre for Social Justice ran the figures: the wealth-to-results relationship is sickeningly consistent (see above). Our  state education system educates the richest best, and the poorest the worst.

So yes, let’s be angry about unfairness in the education system – and the way sends inequality cascading down the generations. But getting annoyed about private schools is a waste of anger; reforming state schools (as this government is doing) is the surest way to the balance.

Tags: Centre for Social Justice, school reform