I wasn’t going to bother returning to the issue of school exam results, but having got under the skin of a few private-education-defenders yesterday, I have changed my mind. Internet democracy in action.
The skin penetration came when I retweeted a piece by Henry Stewart, chair of governors at Stoke Newington School, on the excellent website, The Truth About Our Schools, pointing out that State schools were gaining on private schools in both GCSEs and A-Levels.
The fabulously intelligent (#sarcasm) @SimonMagus responded by saying on twitter ‘of course they are you idiot – the private sector can’t improve as all their pupils get top grades.’ But had Mr Magus, or Mr Simon, or Mr@, whatever his name is, broken the habit of a lifetime and allowed the facts in Mr Stewart’s piece to break through some of the prejudice that private education fanatics tend to display, he would have got the point – that despite all the phenomenal advantages enjoyed by the private sector, their results were down, and the State sector’s were up.
That this was not remotely reflected in any of the media coverage may have something to do with the fact that virtually every national editor and senior commentator in the British media uses the private sector for their little Johnnies and Gemimas, which may explain why so many of them feel they have to present private school success as the result of their wise choices, and any such success in the State sector as ‘dumbing down.’
In the hope that Mr@ or Mr Simon or Mr Magus, or all three of them, bother to read the facts this time, here they are – in comprehensives the proportion of GCSE grades being an A or A* rose by 0.9 % and those achieving C or better rose by2.2%. In private schools the pass rates in both categories fell. Private school students of course still get more A grades. But back in 2002 they were 3.9 times as likely to get an A grade at GCSE as a student at a comprehensive. Now they are just 2.9 times as likely. The state sector achieved 71% of last year’s A grades and 70% of this year’s A* grades, dispelling the other convenient myth the private school promoters put around, that As were too easy to attain, but the new A* would show just how much better the independent sector was.
So the media (did I tell you that virtually all national editors and senior commentators send their own kids to private school, in Mailgruppe Obergruppenfuhrer Dacre’s case to Eton, in the days before he bought his 15,000 acre Scottish estate) nonetheless preferred to highlight the fact that private school students were three times as likely to get the new A* grade as those in comprehensives. If you take a few seconds to reflect on this, it is hardly surprising, given the fairly obvious possible link between privilege, affluence and educational attainment. News is meant to be driven by that which is more surprising. So real news values would have highlighted the relative improvements of the State schools which are so often deemed by their media critics to be bad. Ah, but that would interfere with the prejudices, n’est-ce pas?
Oh, and while I am in n’est-ce pas mode, if I may make a rare criticism of the actions of a Labour government, can someone tell me why we made a foreign language optional? It happened after my time in Number 10, and it was a mistake. English may be the leading language in the world but that does not mean kids don’t benefit from learning the language of others. So does Britain.
But back to the skin penetration, another hugely intelligent twitterer, @Sir_Olly_C (beware a man with two underscores I say) piped up that ‘Aherm site [Truth about our Schools] run by Fiona Millar, previous advisor to Cherie Blair, so she can fuck right off.
Far from feeling hurt by this, I was strangely moved by the idea that it is now considered a bigger sin once to have advised Cherie than it is to have lived with me for 30 years and given birth to my three well-educated children.