Education And The Great Class Divide.

by Ray_North on March 27, 2013

Unknown-1The other day, I had a conversation with my oldest boy Ryan North – he is nearly 8, and his school are about to put him through some tests. He’s never done proper tests before and he was curious about them.

‘What will you say Daddy,’ he asked me, ‘if I get a D?’ I told him that I thought he would do better than that, because he is a clever boy. He then ruminated about this, and started to ask me about University. Now, he’s heard about University, but to him it remains a rather strange concept, it is the place where you might go after you’ve finished High School and you’ve passed all your exams. He asked me, ‘will I go to University.’ And, instinctively and immediately, my answer was, ‘yes, if you work hard.’

I answered in this way, because that is what was drilled into me as a child by my upwardly mobile, mother – I was told, I must go to Uni, I must work hard and pass my exams – if I don’t, nothing good will come of me.

Later that evening, I was thinking about the conversation I’d had with the boy and I found myself becoming increasingly worried about the answer I’d given him – because in contrast to when I was a child, the state will not pay for him to on to learn. If, in ten years time (barring some kind of miraculous change of policy by the main parties), he wants to go to University, he will have to take out a loan probably approaching £100,000 in total. Now, I don’t regret going to University, I’m grateful for the chance I was given, and I hope that I am now contributing to society by doing a job which I have been lucky enough to qualify to do. As it happens, my job, as it relies upon public money, will not mean that I can pay for my sons to go to University, so they will have to take on debt – and that really worries me, not just for him, but for all the other 7 and 8 year olds, and, indeed the rest of us who will not have harnessed the talent that many of them possess.

Because, let’s face it, if in ten years time, Ryan or his brothers, say to me, ‘I don’t want to go to Uni Dad, I want to get a job or a trade,’ I can hardly argue. In fact, in many ways, getting a job makes more sense, unless they have a particular vocation, or are massively academically gifted, what is the point of University? The idea of going away from home for three years to meet new people, experience new things and read a few books along the way are gone – my son’s generation will not be allowed that, unless their parents can afford it.

And this, is a step back in time, which is just about as regressive as any I can imagine.

I think about my grandfathers, both of whom were born at the turn of the last century, neither went to University, of course they didn’t, one was a labourer, the other worked in a sawmill. If, as 8 year old boys, they had asked their parents about University, they would have been told that University was something that happened to other children, not them, because they were working class.

So, for boys like Ryan, and many others, University, just like it was for my Grandfathers, will become increasingly something that happens to other children. And the result is a return to a society that is riven with the same class division that determined the lives of my grandparents, a world where those with money succeed, and the rest just toil.

It annoys me, when people suggest (and Lib-Dems do this a lot), that the statistics show that working class people are not being dissuaded from going to University because of Student Fees – if they are not now, they will be, believe me, and the result will the reintroduction of a class system that no one wants to see, a system where social mobility is only afforded to the very luckiest, while everyone else’s lot will depend upon their parents and the lottery of birth.

For me, the biggest failure of my generation and the most shocking result of the failure of our particular brand of capitalism is the awful reinvention of the class system.

Once again, I despair.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie_East_West March 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm

That is one of your finest, Ray. An absolute belter of an article. Bizarrely, I had the same conversation with my son tonight.


Anna Akroyd March 28, 2013 at 7:04 pm

What a sad but true reflection. Compounded, I feel, by the increased approach of schools to bring lower performers to the minimum grade and ignoring those who have greater ability, rather than pushing everyone to their best.

Well written. Thanks.


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