On Social Mobility and “Who Runs Britain”?

There’s a report from Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, which suggests, amongst other things, companies should publish social mobility audits, revealing how many privately educated employees they have. This offensive, ridiculous, illiberal, and counterproductive proposal undermines the sweetcorn of truth which does exist in the report, from amongst the turd of Alan-Milburn’s chippiness. This report fails to illuminate because it’s asking the wrong questions.

Britain is not unique. We are middling in terms of inequality in the EU, but near the top in the extent to which your parents’ income predicts ones own, which is being taken as a proxy for social mobility. The report then spends many pages talking about public schools and Oxbridge. Inequality isn’t about the 7% at the top, but about the 15% at the bottom, trapped on welfare. Do something for them, and Britain’s social mobility and inequality will look a lot better.

Oxford and Cambridge exist to select the very best students, and then give them the very best education. I would be surprised if Oxford and Cambridge universities (and the wider Russell Group, I attended Edinburgh) didn’t provide the vast majority of leaders across a number of fields. It is after all what they are there to do. For Milburn to imagine becoming a FTSE 100 CEO is more about who you met than a consistent track record of success in exams, University and Business, is being disingenuous.

Likewise the 7% of people who go to public (mostly boarding) school have many advantages, so it would be surprising if they didn’t also form a disproportionate part of the elite, not least in access to Oxford and Cambridge. This is true in all rich-world democracies. My parents weren’t rich, but they made enormous sacrifices to send me and my Brother to a boarding school and they did so because the skills and experience I would receive would be worth their sacrifices. It’s not just technical or academic, many of these are soft skills.

If you start boarding at 13, you effectively leave home and you’re forced to mature faster. You have to go through puberty in the company of peers, with nowhere to hide. You learn to keep private, while being in public. You have to be a diplomat to survive. This generates a robustness of character, but also a certain tolerance. You often share a room, so you need to learn to negotiate with people you may not like much. There is little privacy, so learn how to keep yourself to yourself, even when around others. You talk more, to a wider range of people than people who go home to parents most evenings. Every meal is social. These skills carry through into later life, as the ability to network, be polite, diplomatic, charming and confident.

The additional pastoral care in a public school enables easier focus on extra-curricular activities such as sport or music, developing the whole person. The communal living is in particular an excellent preparation for a military life, so it is unsurprising that Public schoolboys still make up a disproportionate number of the Officer corps of the British army*.

At the top end of the Arts, Sport and Music – remember these are ‘tournament’ professions: the winner takes it all. And often, the also-rans get next to nothing. Is it surprising that people with rich parents feel more willing to take the risk of chasing a dream of a life on the stage? Is it surprising that schools with extensive and varied sporting facilities (Eton’s boating lake was an Olympic venue, for example) produce lots of sportsmen? Is it surprising that schools with extensive music facilities, with access to them late into the evening, and very little else to do, often produces musicians? An aspiring musician in a boarding school will find it a lot easier to recruit bandmates than at a comprehensive where the bandmate might live 5 miles away, rather than down the corridor. Many of the co-incident advantages advantages shared with “middle-class” parents in the state sector: wealth, a home full of books, parents committed enough to put commit their income into education (private school, or after school tutoring), heath and wealth. Imagining this to be discriminatory behaviour by an old-school tie is just fanciful.

Instead of imagining why 7% of the population provide 62% of senior Army officers, ask why 88% of state educated pupils aren’t better represented, and what can be done to encourage them to apply for Oxbridge, Sandhurst or RADA. Instead of assuming a discriminatory “old boy’s club” ask whether there is anything the state sector can learn from the Public Schools in preparing pupils for excellence. This is the point of the academy and free schools programs: to open the state sector to new ideas, and free them from the dead hand of the Local Authority, (and by extension the dreadful teaching unions and their dogma). Many public schools are opening up academies, and offering scholarships to the brightest and best of their intake.

Instead of imagining talent is evenly distributed, ensure opportunity is. Labour closed many routes of access to an excellent education to poor students, not least the assisted places scheme, which supported access to the best education for bright children of low-income parents. Instead of assuming “elitism” to be a bad thing, revel in the fact that Trinity College, Cambridge has more Nobel Prizes than France, and some of those are tales of social mobility. Elitism works, if the groundwork is there. Why are public schoolboys so confident? What can be done to encourage able state pupils to believe they can make it, rather than succumb to the “soft bigotry of low expectations”. Unfortunately, some of the state sector is failing, but Alan Milburn is asking the wrong questions, because he’s already decided upon the answer.

*Though it is a marker of the increased professionalism and calibre of the Army these days that privately educated people are joining the ranks in ever greater numbers too.

Gender Segregation in Universities

If you believe the hype, you’d think British universities are going to be routinely segregating by gender in order to appease islamists. Twitter is outraged. This is about new guidance from universities UK which suggests that some external speakers may be allowed to segregate their audience by gender. The libertarian in me says as no-one is going to be forced to attend such an external event, segregate away, as it’s no skin of my rosy nose. It advises for example that segregation is left to right, not front to back, to ensure equal participation, but in the competing “rights” of equality of gender and religion, compromises should be available. Money quote:

“…Concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system…”

Of course any speaker demanding gender segregation at a UK university is not being culturally sensitive. The kind of speaker who would demand such a policy doesn’t care. Indeed the hue and cry will ensure more radical islamists do demand it; the ensuing publicity will be far more valuable than the speaking gig, whether or not the event goes ahead.

I would be unlikely to attend an event where the genders were segregated to appease a bigoted Islamist. But I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of making a fuss about it. And if you feel you need to go, the segregation demanded reflects badly on the speaker, but is sitting on the left really so bad?

We have become obsessed by trivial symbols. Is anyone actually going to be forced into “gender apartheid” in British universities as some more hysterical commentators have suggested? Or are you just going to have to sit where you’re told to listen to a ranting islamist for an hour or so? Are we so insecure in our society that rational debate cannot overcome the antediluvian nonsense of these religious throwbacks?

“Live and let live” is the most important mantra of liberal democracy. Let’s not give those who oppose it, the satisfaction of letting them think their ideas actually present a threat.

The Al Madinah School “In Chaos”

The first disaster of the Free Schools program is the Al Madinah school in Derby. Of course this doesn’t have the impact the lefties hope it will because it’s a free school. And it’s a Muslim school, that most parents wouldn’t have sent their kids to under any circumstances.

Kids were segregated at meal-times because (snork) “the canteen is small”. Female staff were forced to wear the veil. And the teaching was crap. Most parents will see “Muslim school fails” not “free school fails” (hard-core lefties will see the opposite) and everyone will feel their prejudices re-enforced.

It scored the lowest mark, 4, in all the categories measured.

The only problem is in the reporting I have absolutely no way of putting that in context. How many traditional state-schools get put in ‘special measures’ with such a score. Do we not hear about it because it’s relatively common? Google is your friend. Though I cannot find statistics, it’s clear there are plenty of standard state-schools in special measures.

So. How many traditional schools are there? How many are inadequate?
How many free schools and academies are there? How many are inadequate?

Of course, a school has to be good before it was allowed to become an academy, so there’s a selection bias there. None of these issues are addressed by any reporting on the issue. Just a lip-biting insinuation that this Free-school failure is a disaster not just for the kids, teachers and parents of the school, but for the free schools program. Labour say x, but Michael Gove says y. This isn’t balance. This isn’t reporting. This isn’t analysis. The media is failing at its basic task of holding our elected representatives to account.

Labour say this is a disaster for free schools. It’s not. Not any more than the King Charles School in Falmouth or Stimpson Avenue primary in Northampton are disasters for State education. There will be experiments amongst free schools. Some will fail and will be found out quickly. By killing off failed experiments, standards improve. Muslim fanatics trying and failing to set up a decent school and being found out, is a feature, not a bug of the policy.

Of course, the NAS/UWT and NUT are on strike today, partly to make it harder for inadequate teachers to be sacked. The fact this attitude prevails in parts of state education is the real reason for most failure. The school’s relationship with the local authority is probably irrelevant. But I suspect free schools will be more responsive to parents, and less tolerant of bad teaching. Time will tell. But the failure of the odd school here and there is part of making the system as a whole better.


What does “professional” mean? The dictionary defines it broadly as “doing something for money” but in a more narrow sense, being skilled. Even narrower is being part of a “profession” such as Doctors and Lawyers where it takes many years to acquire knowledge of the arcana. A professional is more likely to be self-employed and so have little job-security. The returns can be enormous, if they’re good, but part of professional status is the willingness to forgo employment rights.

People who have skills tend to be well paid. Their experience is vital, and they are not easily replaced. Professionals tend to find this best if they’re self-regulated. It’s in their interests to collectively policed and access to the profession restricted to keep individual rewards up. Setting high standards works for both the existing members of a profession.
Trades, on the otherhand are easier to acquire. It’s easier to find a plumber than a doctor. This means even highly skilled people can be replaced, if an employer is willing to train another hand. For this reason, Trades unions formed. Collective bargaining was the best way in the absense of any individual being vital to a company, to secure higher wages, from employers.
So. Are Teachers professional? Because they act as if they’re a trade. If you want Job protection, you can’t have high pay. You can’t go on strike, and still call yourself professional. If you want to make rubbish teachers hard to get rid of, you all pay for it with low wages. If you want us to treat you as professional, start getting rid of the lousy teachers, poisoning kids against education, and start competing with each other to deliver, and be rewarded for excellence. That’s what “professional” means.
Free schools, perhaps this Government’s most compelling policy, are a means to deliver the ideal of a professional teaching profession. They will, of course, be resisted in this by the Trades Unions, of the NAS/UWT, and NUT. As schools gain independence over hiring and firing from the collective of the Local Education Authority (or whatever these bodies are called this week), bad teachers will rapidly find it cold outside the warm embrace of a protective union, will seek out  the safer jobs in lower-achieving schools. Good teachers will thrive, and see their pay improve outside the restrictive pay-scales of local bureaucracy. I can see a situation where the worst schools employ the TUC-affiliated teachers, and the good schools’ teachers are members of Voice. No-one has any sympathy for the teachers themselves, because the focus should be entirely on the outcome for students. By all means pay reward excellence but cut the dross, and free schools have everywhere worked in the interests of students.
Trades unions used to be workers’ mutual support amongst people who were ultimately replaceable – agricultural Labourers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs or industrial workers like the miners, whose only power to better their lot could be found collectively. These jobs have largely vanished, Trades Unions having killed the profitability of Britain’s remaining mass-employment industries, and hastened their demise. So now Unions exist almost exclusively in the public sector, where they exploit the lack of commercial pressures to secure perks for their members.
Ultimately, the trades union, acting on behalf of people, Doctors, Teachers, whom we expect to be professional, upsets the public more than when trades unions act on behalf of lower skilled, and lower paid people like nurses. It feels abusive – the already well-off and powerful demanding perks with blackmail, paid for from the wages of people, most of whom earn less. 
By introducing markets, even ones in the public-sector where the state pays all the bills WILL drive up standards, and not only by the usual mechanisms of customer choice, but also by providing mechanisms to reward successful professionals.

The Case Against School Vouchers.

As education policy is in the news at the moment, I was looking for evidence for school voucher programs around the world, I came across an academic book The Case Against School Vouchers. Contrary to the Amazon review, which said

[The authors] were also able to state their case based on facts and research rather than opinionated rhetoric…

the abstract demonstrates the book considers nothing but political questions and completely ignores the performance of school voucher programs in increasing the educational attainment of those let down by state-run schools, and its arguments aren’t even internally consistent.

Controversy over whether public funds should be used to support nonpublic education has raged since the early 19th century. In the 1990s the debate centers around elementary and secondary school tuition vouchers or tutorial assistance grants. This book summarizes the case against vouchers and provides evidence and documentation for each argument. The chapters argue that voucher proposals undermine religious liberty; clash with the Establishment Clause of the Constitution; run counter to public opinion; provide funding to fundamentalist Christian schools that teach bigotry; conflict with the major tenets of American democracy–respect for diversity, intellectual freedom, and religious tolerance; create additional transportation costs; and exacerbate inequities among school districts.

Let’s look at this in detail.

“Undermining religious liberty” by allowing people to send their children to a school of their choice. I smell bullshit.

“Clash with the establishment clause of the constitution” if you’re funding private schools at the direction of parents, how in the name of all that’s holy, does that create an established church?

“Run counter to public opinion” People don’t like change & they’ve been told by the teachers that vouchers are right up there with the holocaust for pure, unadulterated evil. “Look…. LOOK. Pinochet supported them…”. Of course this is a non-argument.

“Provide funding to fundamentalist Christian schools that teach bigotry” Freedom, if it means anything is freedom to teach stupid things to your kids, who, if exposed to actual freedom may well, and often do, end up making up their own minds. The truth outs eventually. Frankly if you’re already teaching a kid that a sky pixie will lightening him if he has a wank, then it’s a short step from there to creationism. Bigotry’s already allowed; the Rubicon’s already crossed.

God, punishing onanism, yesterday.

“Conflict with the major tenets of American democracy–respect for diversity, intellectual freedom, and religious tolerance” So allowing people free will in how they bring up their children disrespects diversity? Creating a varied school system which includes religious schools, if the parents want, is against religious tolerance? Instead, ensuring every school sticks to a centrally dictated syllabus supports intellectual freedom? Check out the pinko double-think.

“Create additional transportation costs” America is the world’s largest, richest economy where people drive 40 miles to get milk; so who, really, gives a fuck?

“Exacerbate inequities among school districts”, mainly between those that do have a voucher program and those that don’t. That “inequality” is the genius of the voucher system. Parents will be able to see good schools, and crucially be able to send their kids there. Good schools expand, poor schools fail. The result, everyone gets a better education, just not everyone gets better at the same rate.

The fact is school voucher programs have at worst not done any harm, and have at best achieved great improvement amongst the worst-performing demographics. This isn’t important to the ideologues who wrote that book. Nor is it important to any opponent of free schools anywhere, who are usually motivated by the producer interest.

With a proper free schools voucher program, teachers either teach what the parents want, or get fired. The Unions’ opposition to Free schools in the UK is nothing short of Evil. Tories know that in order for this to work, as it does in Sweden, or the Netherlands, schools must be allowed to make a profit. Failure to speak up for this is nothing short of abject cowardice.

No-one comes out of this looking good except uncle Milt, who is, as ever completely right on absolutely everything.


Not in Employment, Education or Training – describing the young, long-term unemployed. Some bloke from a Blairite think-tank, Demos was brought on to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ to discuss the idea that Youth unemployment was growing, had been growing for some time and young people are finding it hard to get the first jobs.

“Entry level work has dried up for the last 10 years…”

…he said, though he did not make the connection, the national minimum wage act was introduced in 1998, at a low level at first, where it had little immediate effect. However the populist ratchet – steady increases in the minimum wage (often clawed back by Gollum Brown in tax-rises) has slowly done what we savage right-wing nut-jobs said it would: make the unskilled totally uneconomic to employ.

NVQs have their place – when earned on the job they can demonstrate skills learned, but the statist idea that Government training schemes and a bit of paper can make someone attractive to an employer must be challenged for the idiocy it is. The only skill most unemployed lack is the regular habit of work, and this can ONLY be addressed by a job – a first job is going to be easy, boring, possibly unpleasant and probably low-paid. That’s why they demonstrate willing. An NVQ from a government mandated training scheme suggests you aren’t willing to take shitty work, and aren’t very bright either.

The halting, stilted interview with a NEET reinforced an impression of a state “education” system which fails to prepare people for any form of work – her speech peppered with

“…like… um…”

I thought she was a teenager. She was 24. Her NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) had not, as she thought, helped her into a career in journalism, but had instead signalled (clearly and accurately) that she was, as the unkind acronym suggested, ‘Not Very Quick’.

The demos interviewee suggested removing employer contributions from NI for the under 25s. Of course that writes off those children of Blair who are 25 now, but have never worked and risks having young people sacked once they hit the line that suddenly makes them a bit more expensive to employ, but he is thinking along the right lines. But why not slash all taxes on the low-waged (I find it disgusting we take any tax at all off someone earning £10,000 a year), and scrap the policy which caused this human misery in the first place: The minimum wage. Let people get a job – as they gain skills their wage will go up, instead of throwing a generation on the permanent scrap-heap of unemployment.

That army of listless hoodies outside the local job-centre is not a result of the credit crunch – though some of it may be, most have been there for many years. It is mainly the result of policies introduced many years ago. The 25 year-olds, educated under Labour to expect well-paying jobs straight out of school, or conned into believing that a 2:1 in “media studies & Gardening” from Northampton university is in any way equivalent to a proper degree, now find the world of work to be not what they were promised. 50% of people getting degrees and demanding employers pay uneconomic wages does not change the economy. These kids’ expectations were raised, then cruelly dashed.

Once again, the Labour party used legislation to try to make water flow uphill, and ended up destroying lives.