Another results day, another devastating headline on educational inequality. Despite the partial good news, that grades were high and many people could accept University places, the results showed a darker side: rising inequality in education.
In state schools, 39% of grades came in at an A or an A*. In private schools, this number was 70%, showing vast inequality. Private schools saw a rise of 9% from last year, where in state schools it was only 6%.
A closer look at the results shows a gap between those on free school meals and not, and a gap between black and white students. Given that black students are likely to be worse off than their white counterparts, only one conclusion can be drawn. The poorer you are, the less likely you are to do well in school, despite any other claims of a meritocratic society.
Money for COVID safety
On the surface the situation was very different from last year, the same crisis in education exists. This is, of course, a mirror of the crisis of capitalism. The benefits brought to students who can attend a private school were already massive, but they have been amplified this year. Why?
Over the last year, teachers in state schools have struggled to keep up with the confused and chaotic approach of the Tory government. Inadequate COVID measures, and reckless openings and closings of schools has caused immeasurable damage to both students and staff.
Private schools, where the children of the ruling class attend, have not suffered in the same way. In August 2020, the Economist interviewed the headmaster of an elite boarding school. This is what they wrote about the school.
“As Mark Lauder, Strathallan’s headmaster, cheerfully explains these measures, he acknowledges that the school’s space and money make them possible. Most of the 560 pupils—aged from nine to 18—have their own bedroom; sport and other activities can take place in the 153-acre grounds; most of the staff live on the site. Significant investment has been made to upgrade the Wi-Fi this summer, ensuring that there’s enough bandwidth to keep the pupils online.”
Lauder hits the nail on the head, the money Strathallan spent on COVID measures is what allowed this successful transition. The picture painted here is in stark distinction to most state schools which have had their budgets gutted over the last decade.
It is not just the money and resources that private schools have which makes a difference. The last year has exposed how vital it is to have decent living conditions, in order to do well at school. We’ve had students going in and out of school, spending months on end working from home.
This is all well and good for students who have a room to themselves and a desk to work at. However many students do not have access to this, sharing small rooms with siblings and potentially having to work from bed.
Students whose parents did not have to work throughout the pandemic, or were working from home, had instant help for any problems they were facing. The children of key workers, who are often low paid themselves, were isolated and forced to struggle through issues and questions alone.
There are countless issues that home learning throws up, the most basic being food. Having 3 proper meals a day is absolutely vital for concentration and long term learning. Many students depend on free school meals, and home learning completely cuts across this. This was in no way properly replaced by the meal baskets sent out.
The results are a reminder of the stark inequality dividing us, not just in education but wider society. The crisis of capitalism means more people are forced to struggle while the rich get richer. The poorer you are, the harder it is to get good grades. Those who are given the boost of private education, of comfortable homes and of good meals are more likely to achieve.
We must create an education system which is properly funded and can work to full capacity. We must remove the inequalities which exist in society, giving people genuinely affordable housing and food.For every student to reach their true potential, we need free, quality education. This can only be done on the basis of socialism, and an economy run by the working class.