Schools of thought
The Sutton Trust has (rightly) caused a bit of a stir today with its work highlighting Britain’s social mobility deficit. Peter Lampel argues that:
‘no other advanced country for which figures are available is social mobility as low as in the UK and in no other country is the link between a parent’s education and the cognitive skills of their children stronger.’
The conclusions drawn from this by the Trust are worth looking at. A key argument is that, in essence, it is impossible to decouple equality of opportunity with equality of outcome. In other words, the gap between the most and the least wealthy matters not because it’s wrong to be ‘stinking rich’ per se, but because the next generation suffers through unequal investement and opportunities. Chris Dillow agrees, over here.
This is uncomfortable for political parties keen on promoting/owning ‘aspiration’. But it needs to be confronted one way or the other – either by accepting and acting on it, or by producing strategies which override this kind of unequal inheritance of life chances. Lampel suggests investing more in early years provision, for example.
But I don’t get the next recommendation – open up grammar schools. Doesn’t this go against the grain of the ‘close the gap’ philosophy that underlies the rich and poor issue? Surely for social mobility to mean everything, it has to mean more than the ability of the chosen few to make it. Surely it has to mean the opportunity for everyone in society to make the best of their talents. This can’t mean hiving people off into winners and losers at 11, however socially representative that process becomes, can it?