A Revolution Betrayed: How Egalitarians Wrecked the British Education System

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A Revolution Betrayed: How Egalitarians Wrecked the British Education System

A Revolution Betrayed: How Egalitarians Wrecked the British Education System

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Peter Hitchens here surveys the development of public education in Britain from its origins in the 19th Century - necessary background for the main thrust of the book, which is the shameful failure of successive governments - labour and conservative - to protect high quality education in state schools, particularly in respect of talented children from poor backgrounds (myself included) which flourished in relatively brief period when Grammar Schools afforded those like me a chance of a good education, and the prospects of attending university in the days when a good degree really meant something. In any case, Hitchens’s use of Gurney- Dixon fails on its own terms because, even if nearly 65% of their pupils had indeed come from working class homes, this would still have left working class children seriously under- represented in grammar schools as in 1954 they represented between 75% and 80% of the school population overall.

I must correct him on one point: Peter Symonds' School in Winchester, a boy's Grammar School (which I attended from 1952 to 1959) did not become a Comprehensive school, but a mixed-sex Sixth-form college (which it remains) in 1974. In 1966, coming from a working class background, to my surprise, as I was never coached for the 11+, having recently changed schools, I, unwittingly, sat, and passed the test, so went to Enfield Grammar School, whereas many of my friends who didn't "pass," nor expected to, were content to go, as I would have been, "across the road" to Winchmore Hill Secondary Modern, where some were pleased, if not to say proud, to be selected for the 'X' and 'Y,' grammar school, streams of that Secondary School, where they went on to take and pass GCE O' Levels and CSE's, alongside the fun of metal work and car maintenance; experiences denied to us Grammar School boys.

If you want a potted history of the changes to the education from victorian times to the present day, chapter two is up your street. Comprehensive Britain’ has laid waste to our once great universities, fuelled rampant grade inflation, and destroyed, perhaps forever, educational excellence and rigour.

Finally, he failed to acknowledge the extensive academic literature supporting the opposition and in doing so fails to properly address the obvious counterpoint. However, the book also bemoans the significant role of church schools in the current educational system. You can change your choices at any time by visiting Cookie preferences, as described in the Cookie notice. In 1954 the terms “working class” and “poor” were not synonymous but, leaving that aside, Hitchens fails to explain that the reason for this report was the government’s concern that working class children who passed the 11+ and went to grammar school were not taking advantage of the opportunities offered to them – hence the report’s official title: “Early Leaving”.It is interesting to see how those on the left and the right contributed in different ways to eroding of real excellence in public education. Next week, HEPI will be running a second review of the same book by a grammar school teacher that takes a different perspective on the arguments. It is a world that, despite the undoubted challenges and inequalities of our current educational reality, I am deeply thankful not to inhabit. In the 1960s, critics asserted that grammar schools­ (“state secondary schools that selected their pupils on merit and charged no fees”) were entrenching class divisions and unfairly determining a child’s life “by a single test at the age of 11. If, in 1956, there had been an expansion of grammar schools to meet the baby bulge then this green and pleasant land would have been preserved and led to the abolition of nearly all private education.

However, the data presented in support of this model is at best cherry-picked and at worst dishonest. He has been a journalist for nearly 50 years, has reported from 57 countries and was a resident correspondent in Moscow and Washington. The criticism led, Hitchens contends, to “a huge decline in secondary education,” exacerbated by “a new system of selection by wealth”: students who cannot afford to attend one of England’s fee-paying public schools are subjected to unrigorous “common” schools, where “the old canon of expected and accepted knowledge, in literature and history, has been mocked, deconstructed and replaced. None of this interests Hitchens, of course, because for him evidence is just an inconvenient nuisance that cannot even begin to compete with the emotional intensity of his convictions.In this way, the book has some potential to stimulate much needed debate about the purposes, shape and structure of our educational system. Hitchens asserts that the 163 selective grammar schools that have survived in England are no longer allowed to be the sort of schools that they once were (whatever that may mean).

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