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The Guardian’s look at the school break: Save fails test Editing

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TThe sharp division between Britain’s private and public schools is widely recognized by many who are at the center as well as left in politics as the custodian of a centuries-old class system. In recent decades, evidence has accumulated of the extent to which fee-paying schools function as a channel to elite universities. They, in turn, function as a conveyor belt for elite jobs as well as the income and prestige that go with them. Status is passed down from generation to generation.

This is the reason for the existence of the Social Mobility Commission. Bridging the gap between the performance of private children and children receiving public education was the goal of subsequent governments – although many policies pursued since 2010 were against it. The pandemic has complicated this task. Last year’s GCSE and A-level results in England showed a gap between private and public schools becomes wider. There was also a noticeable disparity between the estimates obtained students in London and the South-East, and the north of England. (Elsewhere in the UK the SNP was criticized for lack of progress upon achievement.)

Given the emphasis the Boris Johnson government has placed on raising the level, one might think that cabinet members will support efforts to distribute opportunities more evenly. So it was disappointing to see Education Secretary Nadhim Zahavi criticize the records of the best universities that expanded participation. Both Cambridge and Oxford now offer about 70% of places for public school students, compared to 62% (Cambridge) and 56% (Oxford) seven years ago. Professor Stephen Tup, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, recently stated that the proportion of students with private education will be further decline. But instead of signaling approval, Mr Zahavi said recognition should be based on “merit and evidence”.

The irony is that merit and evidence already give modern practice. Studies have shown that public school students excel peers of private school in their degrees. This means that there is an empirical basis for the use of contextual data in determining income, as stated by Mr. Zahavi admitted. Given the much greater resources spent on the average private school student compared to the average public school student, it would be erroneous and unfair to view Level A results as the only factor. And young people from paid schools continue to receive a disproportionately large share of places in higher education. Their interests are defended by scholars such as the Cambridge historian, who recently said white boys receiving private education are now in a “disadvantaged position”.

Mr. Zahavi was praised for his energy, which he knows how to do after becoming secretary of education. But a positive attitude does not replace politics. Given that board-run schools outperform academies in the Ofsted rankings, the recent promise to get all schools to join academy trusts looks reckless as well as too familiar (has been tried before). More immediate priorities should be in England school buildings are destroyed, with a budget for renovations that is currently struggling with the Treasury, and further training and education where rhetoric has yet to turn into a much-needed investment. The cuts led to teachers’ salaries down 9% in real terms over ten years, and contributed to the deterioration staff retention problems. Warm words about “great results for every child” – all very well. Combined with access initiatives and lack of progress in other areas, they are shrinking to a sonic bite.

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