It seems we are a snobbish, class-ridden society where those of us with a tight hold on the reins of power will use our position to ensure no one from lower down the ladder is given the opportunities we enjoy. That position and those opportunities are entirely down to the schools and universities we attended; this explains why that amorphous mass, the Establishment, is still predominately the product of private education and good universities, including Oxbridge.
So says a commission that knows all about this sort of thing. As a white, middle class, male product of private education and a university, what can I do but hang my head in shame and admit my collusion in this shameful conspiracy?
Except that we are confusing two things here, elitism and educational inequality. I and others of my ilk do not sit around, as some ghastly secret elitist cabal, cackling evilly and saying, no, not that one for the job, he or she went to a bog standard comprehensive. Let’s keep the proles in their place.
Nor do top rank universities discriminate against pupils from the state sector with the same grades as someone from the private; actually, quite the opposite, faced with that choice, they will often go for the state pupil, for reasons of promoting social mobility.
I work in the world of business. This is these days viciously competitive; no sensible company would reject the best candidate for the job in favour of someone less talented because the latter went to the “right” school. Some employers might view the old school tie or who their parents may or may not be as more important than talent, but I suspect, from the evidence of my daily working life, they are now in a minority.
Look at the evidence. Someone who has gone through a good independent, fee-paying school – bad ones exist, believe me – and then to Oxbridge or another top rank university has had one of the best educations on the planet. Someone who has gone through certain sectors of our state system has had one of the worst educations in the developed world.
Which of the two would you expect to rise in professions such as law, journalism, accountancy, the City, even education itself, that require learning, diligence, social skills, and so on?
The solution is threefold. One is to assure that those state school pupils who demonstrate all the above have the chances to hook up with employers seeking such talent. Organisations such as the Social Mobility Foundation exist to do this and should be supported.
Another is to take a long, hard look at unpaid internships, which prevent those from a poor background getting a foot on the ladder and favour the offspring of the wealthy.
The last is to ensure that each state school pupil gets an education so good that the private sector withers away as not needed. This applies in more egalitarian societies, such as the Nordic countries, that put a premium on state education to an extent that private schools barely exist.
God knows how you do it. The most reforming education secretary in recent years, whose measure of success could be measured by the opprobrium with which he was held by the hidebound, ideologically motivated and lazy educational establishment, is no longer in the post. My old colleague Michael Gove.
There are signs of hope, not least in the performance of some academy schools. But the “elite” will be with us for a long time yet. As will studies proving how monstrously unfair it all is.