A new study by an Oxford academic has found a greater concentration of poverty in schools has a negative effect on pupils there, both rich and poor. Professor Steve Strand discovered a difference in GCSE results of 25 percent between children who qualified for free meals and those who did not at schools rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. The study also found that children from relatively wealthy families perform worse at schools with large numbers of disadvantaged pupils.
These findings make a mockery of one of the supposed justifications for ridding the nation of its grammar schools: namely, that less capable students benefit from working alongside brighter children. In fact, the opposite is true – which is worth remembering next time you hear a parent hailing the diverse mix of kids at their local comprehensive. Diverse in background they may be, but when it comes to academic achievement, it’s likely to be a choice between dumb and dumber.
Professor Strand’s findings are unlikely to go down well with the Left, but it will take comfort from his opinion that teachers are not to blame for these disparities. He believes that poor children do less well in education because “they have parents who are more stressed, less able to afford educational activities and resources, and less well-placed to help them with their school work”.
So, apparently, parents are largely equal in their willingness and ability to help their children, but differ in their opportunities to do so. Better-off parents have time to kill, whereas cash-strapped ones are too busy making ends meet to spare a thought for their kids’ education.
This will come as news to stressed-out families busting a gut to give their children a better life. Apparently, all that striving, achieving and supportive parenting just goes to show how easy they have it. And what about those hard-up parents who still find time to help with their children’s school work? Are we supposed to dismiss them as the exceptions who prove the rule? I dare say such parents would take umbrage at the suggestion that they are freaks.
What can’t be denied is the link between poverty and poor performance at school. The Left will naturally conclude from this that greater redistribution of wealth is required to militate against the effects of poverty. But making people better-off does nothing to affect their attitude to hard work and achievement. On the contrary, when Big Brother fills people’s pockets with money they did nothing to earn, it blurs the lines between effort and success.
The attitude a child takes to school is more important than any help they receive outside of it, and this is something they generally pick up from their parents. Perhaps the reason that children from poor families fare less well at school is that they lack a positive influence from their parents. Perhaps their parents’ low incomes result from the choices they have made, and maybe, because of their own experiences, they fail to see the value of learning as a key to self-improvement. It could be that they would rather take refuge in the Left’s theories of social injustice than encourage their children to prove them wrong.
If this is so, and assuming Professor Strand’s evidence is correct, then two obvious conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, selective education (e.g. grammar schools) is necessary to ensure the brightest pupils maximise their potential and ensure they are not dragged down by less willing or able students. Secondly, trying to end the cycle of failure through state handouts is counterproductive and only encourages attitudes that are antithetical to academic achievement.
Conservatives have known this for a long time, but the Left has consistently refused to face facts, preferring to ply low-achievers with government lollipops as compensation for their ‘mistreatment’, and regarding standards as arbitrary things that can be lowered without any negative effects.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time, the British Left shared common ground with conservatives on a variety of issues. Both recognised the value of effort and ability, both had similar views on what excellence looked like, and both understood that our values and customs were largely about best practice rather than prejudice.
The Left wanted to help the working classes enjoy the same benefits as the rich, but not any more. If it isn’t warding the masses off the evils of wealth and convenience, it’s trying to persuade them that a state of bovine dependency is better than all that ambition and self-improvement nonsense.
Boomer intellectuals of the post-war era decided that hard work was for suckers, standards were a sham, and self-restraint an affront to their egos. To this end, they began defining down the criteria of success, instead of helping people lift themselves towards it.
The result is the kind of spiteful anti-elitism we find in our schools and in society as a whole today. As long as people can be encouraged to believe that anything is good enough, they will never understand the true meaning of success, and will be denied the tools required to achieve it.