The scale of private school dominance of top jobs in Britain is “morally indefensible”, Education Secretary Michael Gove told a conference of independent school heads today
He said it was “remarkable” how many of the positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in Britain were held by former independent school pupils.
“On the bench of our supreme court, in the precincts of the bar (for lawyers), in our medical schools and university science faculties, at the helm of FTSE 100 companies and in the boardrooms of our banks, independent schools are – how can I best put this handsomely represented,” he told a conference at Brighton College – the country’s top performing co-educational private school at A-level.
Even sport, Hollywood, Broadway and UK TV screens were dominated by students from the private sector.
He cited the English cricket team where – 25 years ago – only one out of 13 players who made the team against Pakistan came from a private school. By contrast two-thirds of the current team are privately educated.
In the field of entertainment, Hugh Laurie, Dominic West, Damian Lewis, Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne were all old Etonians.
“One almost feels sorry for Benedict Cumberbatch – a lowly Harrovian – and Dan Stevens – heir to Downton Abbey and old boy of Tonbridge – is practically a street urchin by comparison,” he added.
“If acting is increasingly a stage for public school talent one might have thought that at least comedy or music would be an alternative platform for outsiders.
“But then Arnando Iannuci, David Baddiel, Michael McIntyre, Jack Whitehall, Miles Jupp,(Alexander) Armstrong from Armstrong and Miller and (David) Mitchell from Mitchell and Webb are all privately educated.
“2010’s Mercury Music Prize was a battle between privately educated Laura Marling and privately educated Marcus Munford.
“And from Chris Martin of Coldplay to Tom Chaplin of Keane – popular music is dominated by public school boys.”
Former private school pupils dominated the media, too, with The Guardian being educated by privately educated men for the last 60 years.
“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 added.
“We all live in an unequal society. More than any other 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.
“When more Etonians make it to Oxbridge than boys and girls on benefit then we know we are not making the most of all our nation’s talents.
“When hundreds of primary schools allow children to leave not able to read, write or add up properly we know we are indulging in a form of national self-harm so profound as to be disabling.”
He said that the Government was “neither idle nor complacent in the face of the inequality which scars our society”.
Coalition education reforms – giving schools more freedoms as academies – would help close the attainment gap.
However, Chris Keates, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said the Government’s “flawed ideological policies” were “creating a lost generation of children and young people and plunging millions into poverty”.
Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, added: “The worry is that progress could stall as a result of the Government’s approach.
“With school buildings in dire need of investment, support for a few satellite grammar schools and money being targeted on pet projects not real need, it is clear that the Government is not backing the vast majority of schools and pupils in England.”
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