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Chris McGovern: Public schools pay dividends. But to get ahead become a brickie

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You never really recover from a below-par school, let alone a bad one. That, at least, seems to be one of the unstated conclusions of a recent study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It discovered that graduates who attended an independent school earn 7 per cent more than graduates from maintained schools who achieved an identical degree at the same university and who do the same job.

The ‘old boys’ and ‘old girls’ network may come into play for those who are seeking employment, but once in post it is difficult to see why a graduate from a state school should earn less than his private school ‘equal’. On the contrary, logic suggests that the youngster who had to struggle hardest to achieve a job, usually the state school candidate, should be more successful at it, all else being equal. Why, one might ask, is this not the case?

The answer, almost certainly, lies in something less quantifiable than examination results. It lies in the ocean of difference that exists between the rich, broad, ‘whole-person’ education and ethos provided by most independent schools and, at best, the narrowly focused test/exam-driven approach of most maintained schools. UK independent schools are the best schools in the world. It is where the rich of the world’s most successful state education systems – Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan – queue up to send their children. It is because our public schools are so good that many of these schools have opened ‘franchises’ overseas.

The confidence, the social skills, and the willingness to compete, that so characterise pupils at independent schools are, too often, not replicated in the state sector. Beneficiaries of a much broader curriculum and the ‘character building’ that goes with a vastly wider range of extra-curricular activities, it is small wonder that ex-public school pupils go on to achieve greater rewards in the workplace.

Politicians would like us to believe otherwise, of course. The growing number of school leavers moving on to university is proclaimed a triumph for what Tony Blair liked to call ‘social justice’. Driven forward by their schools, at the behest of successive governments many state school pupils now see getting into ‘uni’ as the ultimate sign of success. Furthermore, as the Government’s higher education access Tsar, Professor Les Ebdon, is fond of reminding us, state school undergraduates do slightly better academically at university than those from independent schools with the same A-Level grades. He seems rather less forthcoming about the one area of university achievement in which the privately educated out-perform undergraduates from maintained schools. That area, of course, is the one that undergraduates see as the most important – employment.

Our academic state schools pupils are losing out to those from independent schools, both in terms of finding a job and in terms of their prospects once in a job. This is unfair but unlikely to change without a huge expansion of the grammar school provision that once offset some of the advantages of independent schools.

And what will happen to those state school pupils who are not academic enough, or do not wish to go to grammar school? They should be provided with ‘gold standard’ vocational schools and aspire to earn more, even, than most of those who attended independent school.  Fantasy? Not according to an authoritative report out this week that points out that, by April 2015, there will be a shortage in London, alone, of 605,000 skilled workers simply to complete planned building projects. The Evening Standard described a  “crippling shortage of skilled workers” and noted “bricklayers are reportedly earning more than £100,000 a year”.

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovernhttp://www.cre.org.uk
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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