Social Mobility and Equality of Opportunity

By Andrew Brons MEP. The Political Left believes that children are born with equal potential so if pupils from a poor background fail, their failure can be attributed to disadvantage and a denial of equality of opportunity. That is bad enough but those who would be seen as being from the Political Right seem to share their view.

The Daily Telegraph’s Education Editor, Graeme Paton, (17th June) referred to data from the Organisation for Economic co-operation and Development, in which it was shown that only 25% of  ‘poor children’, in Britain, managed to exceed expectation at school, compared with 31% of ‘poor children’ in developed countries generally.

This suggested, according to Mr. Paton, that ‘disadvantaged children’ have less chance of climbing the social ladder than in most developed nations.

Indeed the Education Secretary, one Michael Gove, was reported to have said: “The scandal ‘which’ (I believe he meant ‘that’) haunts my conscience is the plight of those students from the poorest backgrounds in the poorest neighbourhoods, who need us to act if their right to a decent future is to be guaranteed”.

The OECD report revealed that 70% of poor pupils in parts of China exceeded the standard expected of them. Our 25% looked extremely poor in comparison or did it?

There are probably more talented children living in poverty in rural China, because their families have not previously been rescued by an effective education system.

It is small wonder that equality of opportunity should now be revealing their existence. There are still talented children in Britain, especially from poorer families, who fall through the net of educational opportunity. However, there are probably fewer of them.

The problem is that the Political Class generally confuses two related but distinct concepts: social mobility and equality of opportunity.

Indeed they are frequently treated as though they meant the same thing. Many commentators have bemoaned the fact that social mobility has fallen and they have attributed this to a denial of equality of opportunity. In fact the fall in social mobility is attributable to the success of equality of opportunity!

It is difficult to pinpoint a year in which equality of opportunity was attained but 1947 – the year in the Education Act 1944 was implemented- is as good as any. That was the year in which secondary education was provided for all and selective exams decided, more or less on merit, who would receive a Secondary Grammar education.

Since then, there have three or more generations enjoying equality of opportunity. Initially there would have been substantial social mobility resulting from the new equality of opportunity. Pupils, with innate ability, from humble backgrounds went to grammar schools and some from there to universities and other higher education colleges.

 The professions and management positions ceased to be the preserve of those with upper and middle class backgrounds and became meritocracies. People within those occupational groups also tended to marry and procreate (now just procreate) with people of similar abilities. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that differences in intelligence are attributable to heredity rather than to environment. This has resulted in those in management and the professions becoming an intellectual caste and not simply a class caste.

Whilst there were many people of innately high intelligence in poorer occupations, before the advent of educational equality of opportunity, that number has fallen steadily in subsequent generations. There are still gifted children to be found in less well-off social classes but there are fewer now than there were and the proportion will continue to fall as they are ‘rescued’ by the education system from a future of economic failure.

Social mobility has indeed slowed down and that should be seen as a tribute to educational equality of opportunity.

Unfortunately, the story does not end there. The expansion of higher education by the Major and Blair governments came at a price. Whilst it was easily affordable to provide maintenance grants and pay tuition fees, when 7% of students went on to full-time higher education, this became impossible when the figure exceeded 40%.

The result is that all students must fund their own maintenance and pay their own tuition fees.

There are now students of mediocre ability from rich backgrounds who take a university place, whilst poorer more able students might shrink from going on to higher education if the experience should carry with it a burden of debt for several years.

We have seen a move away from equality of opportunity. It must be hoped that it will not continue. An answer might be for the most able students, if from poor backgrounds, and pursuing the most useful courses, to be granted a remission of tuition fees and to be given maintenance grants. That would preserve equality of opportunity. It would probably not add to social mobility appreciably.

However, of greater importance, is that there must not be a retreat from reason and reality by those who are seen to be on the Political Right.

8 thoughts on “Social Mobility and Equality of Opportunity

  1. What about the destruction of the grammars? You seem to have missed that bit out – social mobility stopped in the mid-70s with the introduction of comprehensivim, therefore there has not been equality of opportunity for three or more generations, but possibly two at the most.

  2. Good article. There is inequality of ability, surely too obvious to need emphasising; inequality of inclination, again too obvious to need overdoing the point; and then we have equality of opportunity.

    If a person has a gift but is not inclined to develop it, then he will not go anywhere. But to get anywhere he needs both the gift, the inclination to develop it, and the opportunity to do so.

    Only then can we have social mobility upwards.

  3. I was placed in a Secondary Modern School; having failed my 11 plus exam, then when I joined the British Army, I scored 61 points, just enogh to get me into the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers where i served for 22 years and finished as a Staff Sergeant.

    After returningb to the UK I could not find work, so I did security work and while being bored at night I tried the MENSA exam game and passed. I then sat a home exam monitored by a Magistrate friend and failed by 1 point, several years later at around 45 years of age I completed a TV test and passed, did a postal test and passed, and was then invited to a local college of FE to sit the full test, which I passed (just).

    However I am now a MENSA person, what does that say about the system? According to MENSA I have always had the innate intelligence but I admit I never found learning (the way it was taught) easy.

    I finished up working for the careers service helping GRADUATES to fill in forms, write CVs and letters etc and their command of ‘English’ and grammar was far inferior to mine, so praise be to then old style Secondary Modern Schools? With Christian values, discipline and ENGLISH teachers who cared about the future of our children.

  4. I am in agreement with what is being said here by Mr. Brons and by the comments posted. However, I think there is also a question of SOCIAL ATTITUDE and CULTURE to be taken into account. We regularly visit friends (pensioners like us) who live near Basingstoke in what used to be called a council estate and is now run by a “housing association”. The average child here, from the time they can first walk, is encouraged to do exactly as they please as long as it does not stop their parent (or parentS if they are luckier than average) enjoying their day-long TV and planning how to spend their free benefit money. These children – who must be averagely numbered at at least 30 or more per square kilometer – shout, yell, run riot, trample over people’s front gardens and flower beds, scratch cars, shout abuse, use foul language I never even heard from naval ratings in 1950, and if you dare to criticise them, they look at you as though you were a type of entertaining freak-show and invite you to visit a taxidermist. If you complain to the parent(S), you are told to “go forth and multiply”. As the age group increases, instead of becoming more civilised, the youngster’s ability to cause vandalism and uncivilised behaviour merely increases proportionately, until the point is reached when cars are driven in street dragster races without passing a test, without licence, without insurance and without the owner being asked. I submit that the problem here is that it is the parent(S) who need to be educated as well as the children; and this education should include “How to live in a civilised self-responsible society.” Then, also, it is very noticeable that in communities where there is a large proportion of Afro-Carribean inhabitants, the popular native culture which infiltrates and contaminates all civilised behaviour teaches youngsters that they should only respect qualities such as strength, hostility, violence, theft, gang-warfare, status-symbols (usually stolen), money (from selling interesting herbal remedies and other illegal transactions) and living a “do-as-you-please” life. Both of these types of communities fester like foetid swamps within British society, and as their numbers increase, so does their savage philosophy spread through our social and educational systems, with an ever-increasing tendency to drag everyone down to the same squalid and anti-social level.

    The leftist “do-good” politicians through 50 years of bad government have created this corrosive and self-destroying social collapse in which decent, civilised standards in Britain are increasingly viewed as “right-wing”, “unfair for the subnormal or anti-social”, “against Socialist doctrine”, “not what a modern country needs” etc. etc. There can be no genuine “equal opportunity for all” in this country untill there is a government-enforced ongoing “Social Standards” exercise and even a “Social Standards Ministry” in which the teaching of civilised behaviour, decent conduct, individual social responsibility, and the values of effort, study and general education are raised above the values of retiring at 18 on benefits and getting more dosh for each sprog you chalk-up. The only politicians in Britain who can hope to extract our socially-crippled and contaminated country from this horrendous Hell of Socialist-enforced dogma are Nationalist politicians.

    Until this is finally recognised by the electorate, there cannot possibly be any such things as genuine equality. Government must be made aware that the single most important component of social eQUALITY is the QUALITY

  5. I think 15 is the best age to determine whether a student is academically- minded or not. Some smart people did slip through the 11-plus exam and the left has used this in its campaign to discredit traditional ‘elitist’ education.

    However, we’ve now lurched from one extreme to another. I’d say that we should reintroduce an 11-plus style exam for 15 year olds. Those who pass can then be groomed specifically for a university education, while the less academically inclined can be given a more practially-orientated education.

    I’d also point out that education is an area which the BNP should focusing on a lot more in its politically campaigning.

    1. Yes, I agree. The state education system has performed abysmally for decades now with one of the results being Britain’s pathetically weak economy. It needs to be totally reformed and BNP policy should reflect this. With the right policies, the BNP could be onto a winner with the electorate.

  6. The story of Hackney Grammar School denies the leftist idea of people being born with equal abilities.

    As a grammar school it had an excellent reputation and produced such luminaries as the Nobel prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, playwright and actor Steven Berkoff, the washing-machine tycoon John Bloom, famous in the 1960’s,the athletics grandee Sir Arthur Gold, kidney transplant pioneer Ralph Shackman and Lords Lord Levy, Peston, Feldman and Clinton-Davis.

    It voted to become comprehensive in 1969 and as Hackney Downs Comprehensive was subsequently named in 1995 by the Conservative Government as ‘The worst school in Britain.’ It was forced to close in that year.

    The excuse for its abysmal performance was made that its pupils came largely from immigrant families, as if that should have made much of a difference to those who believe that ability is equally distributed. Presumably they were all supposed to have been ‘oppressed’ or discriminated against and this is the reason they did not ‘achieve their full potential’

    But of course, the same claim could equally have been made of almost all the famous alumni mentioned who were Jewish.

    The idea that intelligence and temperament are equally distributed is an article of faith of the Cult of Equality. It is not based on empirical observation. It really is the purest hogwash. And the tragedy is that the rest of us have to suffer as a result of this PC drivel which is the basis of all sorts of anti-white discrimination.

    1. Vita Brevis, you are so right in what you state. The leftist committees and behind-the-scenes Socialist theorists who govern government with their ideas will, by their own brain-dead adherence to ingrained ideological mythologies, never admit the plain truth. Part of that truth is what you have described in your posting, in respect of Hackney Downs Comprehensive, where you say: “The excuse for its abysmal performance was made that its pupils came largely from immigrant families, as if that should have made much of a difference to those who believe that ability is equally distributed.” I would like to explain to all Socialist and left-wing “think-tanks” that it is not possible for a country to import huge masses of immigrants without also importing their alien culture, which acts like a virus within our native British culture and standards, attacking it, surrounding it, mutating it, killing it. I submit for argument here that the “authorities” have grasped the reason for that school’s plunge into the sewer – that pupils came largely from immigrant families – but do not have the ideology, integrity or plain common sense to draw the obvious conclusion from this fact – that it is immigrant culture which undermines our educational establishments in areas where there is a high proportion of aliens. It is the issue of an explosive and corrosive foreign culture and the cultural non-values and sub-standards it promotes and spreads that must be tackled if education – and all other aspects of British society – are to be dragged back out of the gutter dug by enforced cavalier multiculturalism.

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