As someone who officially left school at 15, but unofficially left much earlier due to my refusal to bow to the brutality and class prejudices of many of the ‘masters’ who masqueraded as teachers at the sink school I was unfortunate enough to attend, a report issued by a UK educational charity the Sutton Trust breaks my heart and enrages me. It must also make grim reading for all those who followed the advice of Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee at the last General Election and placed a clothes peg on their noses and went out and voted for Tony Blair and New Labour. For according to the new research that the Sutton Trust has just published, middle class advantage in the United Kingdom is just as prevalent today as it was 35 years ago, if not more so. A three-year-old child from an economically poor working class home, who excels in educational tests is likely to be overtaken by a low-performing middle class child by the age of seven.
For working class children born into the bottom of the UKs class pyramid the inequalities are stark and make a nonsense of New Labours claims that Britain has become a meritocracy in which the bright and able will always rise to the top. It also highlights the infantile notion that there is no need to tax fairly the very wealthy as society as a whole benefits from their great wealth via the trickle down effect.
The research concludes that 44 per cent of young people from the richest fifth of the population go on to university, compared with only 10 per cent of those from the fifth of the population living in the economically poorest households. The Sutton Trust also reports that the expansion of higher education has almost exclusively been achieved by increasing the number of students from middle and upper class families going to university to the exclusion of working class teenagers.
Indeed the report makes shameful reading as it becomes clear that the New Labour governments, education, education, education policies under Blair and now Brown have benefited the middle and upper class children to the detriment of their working class counterparts. Whilst masquerading as being an egalitarian government set on creating a meritocratic Britain NL have in fact put the brake on any actual expansion of educational opportunities for many working class children.
What they have created is a meritocracy for middle class people, in which the role of the working classes and their children is to service this middle class meritocracy by doing the menial but vitally necessary tasks any society needs to run effectively. Whereas in the dark days of industrial capitalism, working class children were educated only to a level which enabled them to become factory fodder or muscle in the mines, construction industry and on the land. In New Labour’s brave new world, working class kids will be educated to a standard which will enable them when they become adults to man the service industries that meet the needs of the middle and ruling classes. Some progress.
If any one doubts this the Sutton Reports conclusions spell this out starkly, the proportion of children from the economically poorest working class homes who attended university dropped from 11 per cent to 10 per cent between the early 1990s and 2002, while those from the middle and upper middles classes rose by four percentage points.
What is so unforgivable about the fact that social mobility is no greater today than it was thirty five years ago, when even back then the UK was bottom of an international league table, Is that the whole ethos and justification for the Labour Party’s decision to hitch its wagon to neo-liberal economics was entirely based on the false hypothesis that it would produce results that benefited all sections of society. Instead it has not only failed to give all working class children a fair crack at life’s chances, but in the process it has allowed people already at the top of the economic pile to become as rich as Croesus; and it is difficult not to conclude that there is a direct linkage between the two.
It is also a crime that New Labour has ensured that the economic benefits from the boom period have not flowed downwards to improve the lot of our most disadvantaged citizens and given them means to ensure their children did not remain at the bottom of the economic heap. No matter how well intention Polly and her peg may have been, like many do-gooders they have managed to make a bad situation worse.
By their negligence and reactionary policies the Brown/Blair governments have ensured that if and when this country is hit by a major economic crises, it will be the economically poor who will be hit hardest as this labour government have left them with out the economic padding that is necessary to survive troubled times.