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International Socialism, Summer 1965


Peter Ibbotson



From International Socialism, No.21, Summer 1965, p.30.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Home and the School
J.W.B. Douglas
MacGibbon & Kee, 36s.

Those of us who are socialists believe in social justice in education, which means equality – not identity – of educational opportunity for all children. Those of us who have as socialists fought passionately for what we believe in (and some of us have sacrificed our jobs in the process) know that there are many factors which inhibit social justice in education. Our opponents, firmly entrenched in a smug, mainly middle-class morass of self-satisfaction and prejudice, have consistently denied the existence of such inhibitory factors. For years they received the iniquitous support of the psychometrists in saying that access to forms of education in England depended entirely on ability and what they called ‘stickability’ – the desire and will to work.

Dr Douglas and his colleagues have been undertaking a long-term investigation – under the auspices of the Population Investigation Committee – into the careers of children born in Great Britain in the first week of March 1946. Earlier reports dealt with ante-natal and maternity services, and with children under five; the present report is a study of the ability and attainment of children in their primary schools. Only too clearly do we get, from an impartial body with absolutely no axe to grind, a mass of evidence conclusively upholding those of us who are concerned about factors antagonistic to social justice in education, and equally conclusively rebutting those who still purblindly claim that progress up the educational ladder depends on ability alone.

The importance of social and other non-educational factors in affecting educational progress is underlined in almost every chapter: regional inequalities in selection for secondary education; the relation between home environment and educational opportunity; the educational experience of a child’s parents; the degree of interest in their children shown by parents; the effect of social class; streaming. Among the educational factors influencing educational opportunity is the quality of the provision of primary education – which tends to be richer, more stimulating, in middle-class residential areas (cf. J.B. Mays’ Education and the Urban Child).

The tables in appendix III are valuable sources for those seeking a considered assessment of the provision of primary education and the tremendous wastage of ability among working-class children – the lower down the social-class scale, the greater the wastage – which is by no means due to parental prejudice against education. ‘Able working-class children with parents who are willing to let them profit from a grammar-school education are being deprived of the opportunity,’ says Dr Douglas; and this will go on just as long as the Establishment insists on thinking of education in terms of class and maintains its own upper-class ghettoes for the separatist education of a moneybagged elite.

Dr Douglas’ book is essential reading and reference for anyone who is at all seriously concerned about social justice in education: either reinforcing what one already knows or expects; or opening one’s eyes, stout Cortez-like, to the existence of social-class barriers to full development of every child’s abilities.

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