Yep. You read the headline right. Someone has had the audacity to claim that Labour’s education policies are hurting and belittling the English middle classes. And not just any someone. It was Richard Cairns, head of Brighton College, which had the “best A-Level results of any co-educational school in England”. Brighton College, unsurprisingly, is a fee-paying institution (and therefore benefits from Labour’s decision to preserve its charitable status), and its schedule of fees for the current academic year can be found here (I particularly admire the fact that things like music and support from its dyslexia centre cost extra. Clearly the sort of forward-thinking we need in education). Quoted in the Daily Telegraph (where else you might ask),
Mr Cairns said: “We do need to raise working-class aspirations but at the same time we need to celebrate the success of middle-class children and celebrate that fact that we have so many parents out there spending their time instilling the necessary soft skills and values and in their sons and daughters that they need to do well in life.
“The Government seems to think that the only way to raise aspirations in the working-class is to have all sorts of quota systems that, in turn, damage the middle-class children. That’s muddle-headed.
“There are only 12,000 places at Oxford. Instead of finding more extravagant ways to engineer admissions we should be expanding our best universities and raising the aspirations of all pupils to get into them on merit.”
The threat of “quotas” to dictate admission to leading universities risks blocking the chances of hard-working children from relatively wealthy homes, said Richard Cairns, head of fee-paying Brighton College.
He called for the brightest working-class pupils to be given “elite” training – outside ordinary state comprehensives – to allow them to progress at the speed often reached by more affluent peers.
In other words, middle-class and upper-class parents can afford to pay for their children to go to exclusive schools where they get more attention and better facilities and resources, and it’s only right that their ability to pay gets rewarded in the universities their little darlings attend. Not that we might see any irony in the head of a boarding school talking about how middle class parents spend their time to instill their children with the necessary skills to succeed in life. Lest we be cynical about the headmaster’s philanthropic intent, it’s important to bear this in mind
Currently, Brighton College provides free sixth-form places to bright pupils from Kingsford [community school]. Five are currently at the fee-paying school and another three have already been through the scholarship programme.
I had a quick look round the Brighton College website but didn’t see any total student numbers, so I am unsure what proportion this is. It might be a very large proportion. Or it might not.
I would certainly agree that there is some muddle-headed thinking on display in this article. But I might place it somewhere differently than he does. I might of course be being unfair. It could be his speech included a long analysis of the relationship between class, money and educational attainment, and of how by the time you get to university level it is too late to try and even out the differing educational chances caused by economic inequality. I have my doubts though, especially given this remark.
Speaking before a conference in east London on Friday, Mr Cairns said: “India and China have a middle-class that seems to have doubled in size over the last 10 years, yet here we have a political system that seeks to reduce and diminish the ambitions of children born into middle-class homes in an attempt to raise the aspirations of the working-classes.”
Hmmmm. I wonder if the rapid economic development from a comparatively much lower base in those countries over the last ten years might have played a part in his gaining an impression of a rising middle-class compared to the UK. As for the children of the middle-class in often over-priced and over-rated fee-paying schools, I’m fairly confident that the 7% or so of children from fee-paying schools will continue to dominate access to the UK’s elite educational institutions (at a rate of about 7 times their proportion of the school population). I’m think they’ll manage to muddle through into the same types of well-paid jobs and lifestyles that their parents have envisioned for them, even if a few who have been well drilled to over-achieve in exams and interivews miss out on Oxford and Cambridge because of the nasty lefties trying to even out the advantages that the money of the dedicated and caring parents of the English middle class in no way provides.
Also posted at Cedar Lounge Revolution