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International Socialism, Summer 1962


Peter Ibbotson

Scholarship and Non-Scholarship


From International Socialism (1st series), No.9, Summer 1962, p.33.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Education and the working class
Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden
Routledge & Kegan Paul. 28s.

Invaluable and indispensable reading for all those who, rejecting the Platonic theory, are seriously concerned about social justice in education. An investigation of the education of 88 working-class children in a northern industrial city ‘Marburton’ (? Huddersfield) reveals yet again the social basis of the grammar school; doubts about such a basis have been voiced by Ministry of Education committees in the Crowther Report (1959) and the report Early Leaving (1954). Like these earlier reports, Jackson and Marsden demonstrate middle-class domination of the grammar schools generally. Thus, Marburton is 78 per cent working-class and 22 per cent middle-class, but its VI forms are 64 per cent middle-class and only 36 per cent working-class.

The authors ask why so many middle-class children and relatively so few working-class children reach the VI forms. The answer to the first question is that ‘in a host of small but telling ways the middle-class families had an educational inheritance with which to endow their children.’ To the second question, the short answer (which is fully amplified in the report of the investigation) is that secondary education in Britain is based on the Platonic philosophy of an elite, and in this ‘any form of nominally academic selection will, in effect, be a form of social selection’ (authors’ italics) in which environmental limitations are disproportionately, and irrelevantly, important.

The invidious social influence of the grammar school is well brought out. If the working-class child who goes to a grammar school accommodates himself to the prevailing middle-class values, he makes the grade as a VI former; if he rejects or rebels against them, he becomes an early leaver. The former become conformist defenders of the Establishment, as pathetic in their passionate adoption of middle-class mores as in their self-conscious rejection of the working-class. The pool of ability theory is adequately rebutted. Even if talent is a fixed quantity (which Socialists deny, knowing instead that talent grows in propitious circumstances), two major sources of talent are largely untapped by higher education: girls of all classes, and the sons of manual workers. The lower proportion of these going on to higher education reflects differences in opportunity and motivation, not difference in ability. A modern economy depends not only upon identifying high talent and training it, but upon the broadest development of all talents in society. We are therefore inevitably committed to a broader and more generous education for the whole of society; and this report underlines the wicked waste of talent caused by the parsimony towards education of the government of the past decade.

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