Labour has signalled an apparent end to the concept of meritocracy in British public jobs if it wins next year’s general election, as Gloria de Piero MP announces local and national government will be required to keep records of employees social backgrounds to keep privately educated middle classes out of jobs.
Lambasting the legal and journalistic professions as well as the Civil Service as being disproportionately made up of public school alumni, di Piero, who is a former journalist and day-time television presenter, set out her vision to use the public institutions of the United Kingdom to force social change in employment trends.
She said: “the Civil Service should set the standard on open recruitment and open opportunity… Good companies already monitor the race, gender and disability of their staff. They should monitor social background for the same reason”.
The plans to lock people out of employment as a means of engineering the social makeup of the Civil Service has already been the subject of criticism. The Daily Mail quotes Conservative MP and self-made man Andrew Bridgen as dismissing the policy as a ‘gimmick’, saying it was cooked up to “appease the lentil-munching Guardianistas in the Labour Party… ‘It would create more costly bureaucracy for public bodies, and would quickly be extended to businesses where it would harm services and job creation. People should be encouraged to aspire to fulfil their potential through hard work, talent and opportunity”.
Defending her initiative against the suggestion it would be an expensive extra layer of bureaucracy, a spokesman for de Piero said: “Social background would just be another question. It will help expose which parts of society still operate as a closed shop”.
The new plans to address Labour’s concerns about the apparent prevalence of privately-educated civil servants seem to centre around limiting access to opportunities, rather than improving education for the British working class. de Piero’s choice of Alan Johnson as an example of a disadvantaged working class Brit who had succeeded in public life made no acknowledgement of his his own education.
Johnson was accepted by the Sloane Grammar School aged 10 in 1960, which was one of a large number of schools that existed in 20th century Britain which gave a public-school style education to gifted children without financial means. The schools were credited with giving countless working class children the intellectual skills to succeed in business, academia, the sciences, and politics but proved controversial. They were slowly abolished through the 1960’s and 70’s, but every Prime Minister from Harold Wilson in 1964 until Tony Blair in 1997 had attended one.
Since the end of Grammar schools in the UK, the number of state-educated men and women in British public life has steadily diminished and this has been one of the driving forces behind the significant changes in Education pioneered by Michael Gove during his tenure at the Department for Education. The Free Schools project, while intended to boost academic rigour in private education has proven to be exceptionally unpopular with teaching unions despite remaining unselective.