Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Education, Education, & Private Schools

I came across this “News” on the Conservative Party’s own website : Widening education gap between the many and the few

There are so many things about this post that niggle me that it’s difficult to know where to start – but I’ll try !

OK – first up – the language is lifted straight from Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday – fine, that’s politics. It is clear however that they seem pretty pleased that a privileged few are apparently making greater educational achievements than the rest of the school population – that’s not a GOOD thing in my book – Oh but wait – I’m missing the Tory point (not the first time that points have been missed with Tories though)  – they’re blaming this on Labour.

Right, now I see. Actually – no I don’t – the figures that they quote (which incidentally have been in the public domain since August 2009 – so why any of this is “news” I do not know) – do show some significant differences between A level performance in independent schools and state schools. They also show some similarities – state school performance at 3 A’s has roughly doubled since 1998 – (I wonder why they chose that date – and not 1996 – the year before Labour came to Government ?) – whilst performance at independent schools using the same measure has – hey ! roughly doubled. Which does make it even less newsworthy.

So really the gap hasn’t widened – it’s the same gap – except that all students are far more likely than they were in the dark days before Labour took office, of gaining 3 A’s.

So murky are the Conservatives’  figures though that it’s really difficult to work out exactly what is going on here. Now I thought that there were around 300,000 A level students last year ( A-level results: One in four A-levels passed at grade A | Education | ) but it seems the Conservative party think otherwise – If 32.6 % of students in private schools gained the 11,500 three straight A’s they claim, then that gives us, by my calculations, 35,276 A level students in private schools – so that leaves 264,724 or so in the state sector.  A little bit more than just three times as many that the Tories claim.

That of course would make the paltry figure of 9,725  students with three A’s from the state sector even worse – but hang on – 9,725 isn’t 8.1% of 264,724 – it’s only 3.6%.  8.1% would represent 21,442.

But which is it ? Something’s wrong here isn’t it ?

Well maybe they’ve got their sums wrong again.

Look closely though, I suspect that may not be it  – they’re not really doing what I’m doing – I’m comparing independent sector with state sector. Isn’t that what they’re doing ? No – they’re (deliberately ?) creating confusion by saying “comprehensive” – which of course leaves out all manner of different types of state schools. It doesn’t include grammar schools and other selective schools (obviously not important to Conservatives !) – it doesn’t presumably involve Voluntary Aided & faith schools – it may not include Foundation Schools or Academies – Who is to say what it does include ? Not the Tories that’s for sure.

I wonder if those schools were included whether things would look rather different. Perhaps if they included FE  and Sixth Form Colleges as well they would. (Don’t forget also that the Government also ultimately have a responsibility for monitoring and maintaining standards in Independent schools)

So I’m not convinced by any of this “data”

Even if I were, I would point out that a commercial organisation commanding fees on the basis of a reputation for getting students to 3 straight A’s would be hardly like to select pupils who were unlikely to do so. State schools on the other hand tend to take the students they end up with – and are obliged to adopt an approach which states that “Every Child Matters” – that’s ALL of them – not just the straight A students, not just the ones with money, not just the ones who are likely to go to university. ALL of them.

So I don’t buy the Conservative idea of turning all state schools into private schools. Private schools achieve the success they do (and I could argue extensively about narrow definitions of educational achievement) because they provide only for a moneyed elite. In just the same way as Nicholas Winterton finds that he needs to avoid the different type of people travelling in standard class, parents sending their children to private schools find their oasis of privilege by paying for something which the other ‘type of people’ can not afford (or like me – choose not to).

By making all schools into independent schools, the advantage that independent schools now hold would vanish. It would however quickly be replaced by a hierarchy of provision with the richest people receiving the most prestigious education – and the poor receiving a provision based on the minimum cost to the government, rather than the maximum benefit to the pupil.

I call that a scandalously archaic approach to education in the 21st century – I will do everything I can to oppose that.

UPDATE Comment via twitter from Secretary of State for Children, schools & Families, Ed Balls (@EdBallsMP) You’re right – FE students deliberately excluded RT @northernheckler: my latest blog on Tories & private schools

So encouraging to get feedback from the man who is ultimately my  ‘boss’ in education, on the occasion of my 100th blog !! Thanks Ed !

February 21, 2010 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Political Views, Private and State schools, and Facebook friends

Having read Hadleigh Roberts blog : Experiment: Private school and Political Views I thought I’d try the same thing out with my own Facebook friends.

That is to say I’m examining which of my Facebook friends own up to which political persuasions (evidenced by their Facebook info), and whether it has anything to do with whether they went to a state school or a private school.

Hadleigh Roberts found an overwhelming majority placed nothing in the field for politics. Whilst the majority of those who did put something described themselves as Conservatives (and most of them went to Independent schools).

Well I also looked at religion to see what cropped up – here’s what I found :

First of all we need to take some things into account.

  • I don’t really keep up to my account – I prefer twitter – many of my “friends” are actually relatives and friends of my children
  • Many of my “friends” are therefore under 18 (as friends of my children) – technically not allowed a Facebook account, and not allowed to vote – but interesting nonetheless.
  • An embarrassingly large number of my ‘friends’ are actually fictitious. Created by my daughter as a means of building up credit in some online game. However she found managing the lives of these people more interesting than the game and has created bizarred public school personas for each of them – however none are interested in religion or politics.

Here’s how the make up of my friends looks :


and without the youngsters :


Not many independent schoolers, especially among my kids’ friends – they’ve lost touch already with the ones who are at private schools – hence they’re not on their Facebook list.

And heres what they all think – first with respect to politics :


Well there’s only one blindingly obvious thing there – most people don’t give a stuff – or aren’t telling – Labour and Conservative neck and neck behind the Joke party (people who put supposedly funny comments).

It looks very slightly different taking the under 18s out :


Labour now get a slightly higher rating – and there’s clearly a left wing bias amongst those cat owners who expressed a preference – but more than 8 out of 10 didn’t. Hmm. Interesting also that there are at least 3 Labour party members in there that didn’t put down Labour as their politics. One also that is a well known Labour activist who didn’t either – but I put them down as Labour as their Facebook page is overwhelmingly dominated by Labour politics.

Next we come to religion :


and for the older age group :


and again it’s pretty much apathy rules again – which pleases me to a degree. I’m surprised that Christianity still holds up – especially when including the youngsters, and perhaps not so surprised that quite a few people think of religion as a joke – I included Pastafarians and several Jedi amongst the Joke category.

What does all this tell us then ?

Well sod all I guess – above all it tells us that people are more interested in Farmville than politics and religion, and I suppose that the corollary must be that the election campaign will be pretty much a lottery when it all boils down to it.

So draw your conclusions – in fact try it with your own Facebook friends, and see what you get !

December 13, 2009 Posted by | education, idle banter, politics | , , | 3 Comments


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