Gove attacks inequality of society
Education Secretary Michael Gove has attacked the segregation between rich and poor children in England, saying it is “morally indefensible.”
He told a conference of independent school heads that privately-educated people dominate all aspects of life in Britain, and children who are born poor are more likely to stay poor in this country than any other comparable nation.
Research suggests children from poor homes are already behind by the the time they start school, and that the achievement gap widens as they progress through their education.
At GCSE there remains an unchanging gap in achievement between the number of disadvantaged pupils who achieve five good GCSEs - including English and maths - and the rest of the population.
Top jobs in politics, the media, sport, and music are all held by people who went to a select number of elite schools, Mr Gove said, but there need be no difference in educational performance between pupils from poor and wealthier homes.
Mr Gove said: “It is remarkable how many of the positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in our society are held by individuals who were privately educated.
"Deprived pupils in Hong Kong and Shanghai, who struggle with challenges far greater and more debilitating than any we know here, achieve as highly as their English peers from the most comfortable homes.
"Only 24% of disadvantaged students in the UK perform better than expected compared with 76% in Shanghai, 72% in Hong Kong and 46% in Finland.
"The OECD average is 31% - putting the UK well behind countries like Poland, Greece, Slovenia, Mexico and Chile when it comes to making opportunity more equal."
Mr Gove added: "Despite the evidence that other nations are closing the gap between rich and poor through great state schooling, some in this country still argue that pupil achievement is overwhelmingly dictated by socio-economic factors.
"They say that deprivation means destiny - that schools are essentially impotent in the face of overwhelming force of circumstance - and that we can't expect children to succeed if they have been born into poverty, disability or disadvantage."
Mr Gove said he did not accept this, adding that there were a growing number of schools "proving that deprivation need not be destiny - that with the right teaching and the right values they can outperform everyone's expectations".
He went on to say that independent schools are “handsomely represented… on the bench of our Supreme Court, in the precincts of the Bar, in our medical schools and university science faculties, at the helm of FTSE 100 companies and in the boardrooms of our banks.”
Privately-educated people even dominate sport and TV, he said, with actors including Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne all being educated at Eton.
He listed comedians and musicians, including Armando Iannucci, David Baddiel, Laura Marling, Chris Martin from Coldplay and Tom Chaplin from Keane as more examples of privately educated stars.
And he said that half of the UK’s gold medallists at the last Olympics were privately educated, compared with seven per cent of the population.
He said: “It is undeniable that the individuals I have named are hugely talented and the schools they attended are premier league institutions, but the sheer scale, the breadth and the depth of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country — one we all acknowledge but have still failed to tackle with anything like the radicalism required.”
Mr Gove praised schools where children from poorer backgrounds are doing well, naming Pimlico academy, the Harris academy Merton, Mossbourne Academy in Hackney and Wembley High Technology College.
He attacked trade unions and local authorities that have criticised his education reforms, saying they put the interests of adults before the interests of children.
He added: “We live in a profoundly unequal society. More than almost any developed nation ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress. Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country.
“For those of us who believe in social justice this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible.”
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