Andrew Neill's BBC2 documentary Posh and Posher was a tad chippy for my tastes but served a useful platform partially to highlight what is being termed the death of meritocracy – albeit confined in this instance to the political class – and also to fly the flag for grammar schools with the usual leftist friendly preface ("The 11-plus was far too brutal a watershed, consigning those who failed to second-rate secondary moderns"). A recent Radio 4 Today programme feature touched on the same issues – this time with regards chart music – which is now dominated largely by the privately educated. The same could be said of all leading professions.
Now if there was a Conservative policy designed to achieve a desired outcome (X) and it transpired that the policy had achieved the opposite, I'm fairly certain most if not all would repudiate that policy and perhaps even repent. Once it was popular to appease Hitler, but facts became apparent and minds changed. The post-war consensus was built on Keynesian quicksand and even moderate socialists had to recast their minds slightly. "When the facts change," as Keynes years before said on other matters, "I change my mind." Yet with that most precious thing – children, our nation's future – the Left with very rare exceptions remains welded to what they call the 'comprehensive ideal' – and they dare to call us 'ideological' for wanting our budget to balance! And when they complain that the youngsters from less advantaged backgrounds aren't represented in higher positions the old issue is blamed: class.
Class however has nothing to do with it. There are far too many exceptions for there to be a rule on class, and that wouldn't explain the trend away from state educated pupils. Rather than point the finger at class, the Left must blame themselves and the sabotage they have inflicted on bright, able and gifted children from working and middle class families. And this is where calling this the "end of meritocracy' is wrong" – that implies that success is no longer based on merit, when it is, just only after 18. Individuals gaining top jobs and advancing careers may be overwhelmingly privately educated, but so too are the suitable candidates; so often the best person for the job is privately educated. Class cannot be blamed for the fact that so few state educated applicants have the required skills, both academic and in terms of attitude, confidence and ambition. What has really died – what has really been killed – is potential, and the fatal blow was struck in October '65 by Messrs Crosland and Wilson.
Thanks to the Left, generations of children who would have gone on to become doctors, scientists, researchers, inventors, leaders, musicians, writers and experts in their fields have gone on instead to careers of equal or lesser relative income than their parents. it is not "snobbishness" as Pete Waterman claims that is to blame for the narrowing social band of talent in the charts, but the fact that the musically gifted at most state schools never discover that they are gifted, and likewise with all other subjects. Across the nation there are people who would have gone to grammar schools and would have been doctors but today may be out of work; people who would have made discoveries that advance our knowledge but instead have taken a job in a manual profession. Potential – both individual and national – wasted.
As the new Education Bill advances, these same figures of the Left – the disaster deniers – know what Gove's reforms mean for them. Possibly the biggest shake up of education in history, they will cry foul at every turn, plead caution every step, urge consultation every change, but just as they did not take caution or consult in their war on grammars neither must the new government in their fight for better. Every year delay is another year of young potential wasted. Reform cannot come soon enough.