Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, says the education establishment should stop passing the buck.
Yesterday, Lord (of spin) Mandelson yet again urged universities to offer more places to applicants from less privileged backgrounds. As usual, the implication was that university admission arrangements are to blame for bright youngsters not getting places, rather than his fellow ministers for failing to raise standards in many state schools.
Everyone wants greater social mobility. But if the education system is to play its role in improving the situation, the underprivileged must have access to decent schools. The way to do that is for state education to be improved from the bottom up. It can't be done top down.
This 'passing the buck' mentality was exemplified in a letter from Jean Gross, director of the Every Child a Chance Trust, published in last week's Times Educational Supplement.
'The best way for independent schools to maintain their charitable status', she wrote, 'may not be to take disadvantaged pupils out of the state system but to help them succeed in it. Sponsoring a child in a nearby [state] primary school to become literate or numerate through the Every Child a Reader or Every Child Counts programmes costs £2,600 and will set that child on course for success in life…Interested independent schools are invited to get in touch!'
What a nerve and how typical of the bureaucratic mindset!
First create a problem or allow one to develop from incompetent management. Then recruit an army of 'expert' bureaucrats and allocate billions of extra taxpayers' pounds to solve it, ensuring, of course, there is no direct accountability. If that doesn't work (and it won't), enlist private sector providers in the hope that they will dig those responsible out of their holes.
£2,600 to teach an under-privileged child to read and count on top of the taxpayers' billions already spent? Why should independent schools be 'fined' for the failures of the state, when the first duty of any primary school must be to teach this fundamental, basic skill? If they can't do that, why are they there?
This ethos has become a major problem in the public services over recent years: demand more and deliver less. It won't be easy to change.
Naming and shaming recalcitrant schools is the obvious solution – and celebrating those that do well.
The average reading ages of each primary school's seven-year-olds could easily be measured annually and published as a simple guide to its standard of teaching. Two figures – average chronological age, say 7 years 6 months, against the average reading age, say 7 years 2 months. If central government won't do it, what's to stop local authorities from doing it independently?
Almost everyone agrees that the first key to social mobility is an early ability to read, which opens the door to serious and enjoyable education. Allowing those responsible to hide and avoid responsibility can never solve the problem. Isn't it time for someone, somewhere, to take a lead?