Class war in the classroom?
Two events in the last couple of days.
One is today’s publication of former Health Secretary Alan Milburn’s report into social mobility.
The other is a report from the Charity Commission on private schools and their eligibility for charitable status.
The two are intimately linked.
Milburn’s findings are only shocking in that anyone imagined that the position was anything other than that which he describes – a world in which professions provide a conveyor belt for the upper middle classes and the privately educated.
And that it remains incredibly difficult for anybody born ‘on the wrong sides of the tracks’ to break through.
The Charity Commission ran a pilot study of twelve charities, which included five private schools and effectively found that two of them did almost nothing to justify their charity status. And that the other three were very far from perfect.
The entire concept of tax breaks enshrined in that charitable status has always been a remarkably eccentric facet of British public life and private advantage. But it’s hard to see either Mr Milburn or the Commission upsetting the very British upper class.
Despite all the changes in Britain the public schools and Oxbridge still dominate important parts of the media, the law, the city, and the civil service.
Nevertheless it is an extraordinary truth that no fewer than three conservative prime ministers in the late 20th century – Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, came from the lower middle classes and whilst Heath and Thatcher had made it to Oxbridge, John Major left school at 16 with three O-levels to his name (to which he later added more by attendance courses).
Is this inflexibility what makes Britain Great? Or is it what holds the country back?