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July 19, 2010



I can understand how they might control for income of parents, but how could they possibly control for "innate ability"?

Stephen W

It's just about possible.

They would have to compare the change in achievement from parents with similar educational achievements, one lot that had sent their children to private schools and one lot to state schools.

Obviously this is very crude though. A lot of private school children are the kids of very smart parents who didn't get a good education for one reason or another (crap school, they immigrated here from somewhere else with crap schools etc).


Here in Spain, the social democratic model of school has resulted in one of the most classist systems in years. After finishing the first period (at about 12 years of age, in what we call primary education), one in three students doesn't know how to read. And, of course, guess to what social group belong the left out.
As far as I know, things are not too different there:


Peter Risdon

You're placing emphasis on intention rather than what was actually being done, and that's where the irony arises - you do say as much yourself.

But rephrase it and the irony disappears: abolishing free schools for the academically inclined led to greater inequality. No kidding?

Mike Woodhouse

I don't know how widespread the practice was, but in (probably) the late 60s and (certainly) the 70s, there was in some boroughs a system of "direct grants", whereby councils paid school fees. Having been one such recipient, I recall that obtaining entry was very competitive, so that also may have been a factor. Certainly most of my peers went on to higher education, although I only managed a year...


How do they control for growing inequality? Did not the average person who earned 23% more than another person in 1991, earned 31% more by 2004?

I realise this is a bit two-way, but presumably it does need taking into account.

Edward Spalton

I remember a few very peppery headmasters of Public Schools* in the Fifties, explaining on Panorama why they were being overtaken by state Grammar Schools. They were turning out well-rounded chaps who would play a straight bat, not inky swots.

My own excellent state Grammar School was in Leicestershire, the first county to go comprehensive. The Labour leader of the local town council explained it thus "Good working class lads go to Grammar School, get good jobs and vote Tory. We're going to put a stop to that".

* For foreign readers - "Public School" in England means upper class, expensive,private school!

Paul Sagar

Here's another related irony: the grammar school system that predated the comprehensive reforms, as we all know, was biased against working class kids. The middle classes did much better - including the lower middle classes.

The lower middle class kids who got good grammar educations and went to university went on to earn a lot more - but looked back on their lives and cited their own "merit" as the causal factor. Thus, the lower-middle-class which benefited from grammar schools grew up to be default Tory voters...which made Mrs Thatcher and the 1980s possible (and who then increasingly sent their kids to private schools when the comps weren't up to scratch).

Result: not only the story you tell in your post, but another one that happens at roughly the same time - upward social mobility from the lower middle classes results in a disposition to conservatism which stomps back down on social mobility, helping bring about the 1980s and its entrenchment of class stagnation and rising inequality.

(Obviously there's more to it than just this simply analysis - before some bore starts typing away - but there's a lot to it nonetheless).


An intriguing comparison to make might be what earnings premium (if any) a private education buys when controlled for school-level academic achievement as measured by o-level, a-level or GCSE results.


Spot the selection bias:

Given parents of equal education, some (group A) send kids to private school and some (group B) to a state school.

Possible reasons:

1. Local state school is really good
2. Group B educated parents don't make much money (so more likely than group A to lack hard-to-measure soft skills, so aren't really the same as A).
3. B parents are Guardian readers with an ideological opposition to private schooling. Tends to correlate with putting a low priority in academic success and a higher priority on being environmentally conscious and the like.
4. Group B parents prefer free schooling, new cars and foreign holidays. Group A parents prefer better education, drive a 15-year-old rust-bucket and spend a week camping in Devon.

Reasons 2,3,and 4 will all tend to produce better outcomes in the A children without the private school itself being relevant.

john b

Matthew and Paul S are absolutely spot-on here.

Nikhil Shah

A very large proportion of City workers have historically come from private schools, and in the period cited, the returns to working in the City have exploded. I would think that this effect accounts for quite a high portion of the increase, and is linked to Matthew's wider point about inequality.

tired and emotional

The problem is that you can't have high levels of social mobility and equality. They are mutually exclusive. So if the Left wants working-class and lower-middle class people to know their place and to always vote Labour it needs to enforce shit schools and shut out the working-class and lower-middle class from better provision. Or they'll go and vote Tory.

Perversely of course the sandalistas whose children are able to cope with lower standards of provision more ably due to higher levels of parental academic support in the home will continue to vote Left for reasons of self-validation (masquarading as principle) despite the crappy outcomes thusly guaranteed for those of lower socio-economic class.

How caring and sharing it is to be left-wing.

Luis Enrique

The problem is that you can't have high levels of social mobility and equality. They are mutually exclusive.

That is wrong. For a start, if you have highly levels of equality, social mobility is simply less of a concern. But to be precise, if you define mobility as, say, the percentage of individuals born into the poorest households who go on to be in the higher income brackets, you can have high rates of mobility no matter how shallow the gradient. In fact you could make the case that shallower gradients make mobility easier (a less demanding climb) so rather than being mutually exclusive with equality, mobility may actually be increasing in it.

tired and emotional

Luis, I am not sure I agree that high levels of equality are more important than social mobility (and therefore the latter becomes less of a concern if the former is high). That seems to imply an equality of outcome scenario rather than an equality of opportunity one.

Perhaps I should have said: High levels of social mobility and high levels of equality are mutually exclusive in a free society.


"Equality" is a treacherous word.
I think we need to have extra words for what is meant by each 'flavour' of equality (Like the five Greek words for love).

i.e. Equality under the Law - absolutely desirable, this is mostly abused by the rich and the powerful to escape punishment.


Equal Rights - I think this argument has been won for a long time. All the 'isms' are rightly scorned. Positive discrimination should be avoided though.

However, for this discussion, the following 'flavours' of "Equality" are key:

Equality of Opportunity - most desirable, though ultimately unachievable, unless you prevent rich parents from providing for their own children. This is all about allowing potential to be realised, and is a good thing.

Equality of Outcome - also ultimately unachievable (in a free society) and not desirable; incentives matter, working smarter should be rewarded more than working harder. Grade A*'s for all help no-one.

I would argue that Equality of Opportunity, though ultimately unachievable is the important "Equality" in education.

Better, cheaper, even specialised schools with choice for all.
It is my belief that only the free market can deliver this.


but ... didn't you recently highlight research about trendy lefties sending their children to poor inner city comprehensives, and them doing very well in contrast to their oik classmates?

Just because everyone goes to the same school doesn't mean they get the same education, as Ortega is implying I think. Parental influence is huge, and as a parent I can confirm its huge in my house. Any correlations between school type and outputs are problematic because a "school" is not an average but a wide collection of individuals.


"the abolition of grammar schools opened up a new market for them"

To my state grammar peers in the 60s, public schools were for rich kids who couldn't pass the 11+.

By strange chance now the local public school in my home town has pretty much doubled its capacity. Comprehensives saved them.

Re Edward Spalton's remarks about the councillor not wanting working class kids to get good jobs and then vote Tory. This was a real Left concern in that Golden Age of the 50s and early 60s. The book "Education and the Working Class", by Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden, is an inquiry into the then-issue of the clever working class child going to grammar school.


The fact that they'd get a good education, and that previously "middle-class" careers would be opened up to them, was a given. No, the question was - how would this affect their working-class identity ?

People worried about that sort of thing in those days. Luxury !


The logic of 'graduate taxes' is that you pay more in tax because of your are well educated, independently of your income. So will we see a public school tax for old pupils? Or a tax discount for the less-well educated?


"because you are well-educated..."

I'd like a tax discount for making errors when posting.


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