Taking the Milburn Report on social mobility seriously

Tyler sighed. \”Yes, Major, you might well say that. But as it happens, I\’ve read the Milburn Report, and it doesn\’t mention the abolition of the grammar schools once. Not once.

No, let\’s not take it seriously then. Clearly it\’s arsewipe material.

27 thoughts on “Taking the Milburn Report on social mobility seriously”

  1. He mentions it in his Times article.


    Of course they’re broadly irrelevant to social mobility. In existing grammars, of the bottom 12% of children by parental income, only about 1/20 get into grammar schools, ie 0.5% of the population, compared to about 27% of children with richer parents. In fact grammars do worse than the leading comprehensives in educating such children.

  2. @Matthew

    The left do need to face up the role of grammar schools in social mobility prior to their abolition. Quoting statistics about those few remaining grammar schools shows that the left are not willing to look beyond their ideology and not really interested in improving social mobility.

    (Personally I wouldn’t want to reintroduce grammar schools but just let all schools to be selective on any criteria they would like.)

  3. “not really interested in improving social mobility.”

    No, but they are interested in improving equality. The simplest way of doing this is by smashing up anything that leads to some people doing better than others.

    One day, we’ll all be toiling in state factories wearing blue boiler suits and they’ll be happy (actually, they won’t: they’ll have been shot for dissent).

  4. @Kit: ‘Quoting statistics’ is not the same as being unwilling to ‘look beyond their ideology’. In fact it’s the complete opposite.

    As it happens I can also think of practical reasons why grammar schools would not help social mobility. But it’s important to look at the facts.

  5. The reason a lot of people with working class parents became middle class between 1950-1990 is that the prevalence of middle class jobs increased from 20% to 50% of the population – skilled working class jobs became skilled white collar jobs, and so the people who did them were redefined as middle class.

    Grammar schools, whose attendees were almost all skilled working class or middle class, had little impact on this process – and introducing them now would do *absolutely nothing* for the bottom 50% of the population, who’d continue to not get into them.

  6. Matt’s been excessively polite to Kit above. Statistics are *the only things we have* to determine whether or not policy works; if you follow them, then you’re sensible, and if you ignore them then you’re an ignorant moron, whether you’re of the Dorries or the Toynbee persuasion.

  7. “Grammar schools, whose attendees were almost all skilled working class or middle class…”

    In my experience, this is inaccurate to the point of being untrue. My contemporaries at grammar school were, overwhelmingly, the sons of basic working class parents – factory workers, labourers, welders, railwaymen.

  8. I doubt Grammar Schools benefit the ‘poor’. By poor I mean people who struggle to buy their kids’ school uniforms from Asda. Most of these people would need a bursary to acquire the kit that’s required for an average term at a grammar. I suspect most of the students from so-called working class homes are either an only-child, or/and their parent(s) are skilled working class/supervisor level. I haven’t a problem with Grammar Schools, but don’t pass them off as some altruistic entity.

  9. That’s an interesting observation Ian. I wonder whether you went to school in an area with a particularly high proportion of working-class families? Studies I’ve seen found of unskilled working-class representation in grammar schools in that period was less than half what it ‘should’ have been, although of course given the class structure of society that still means a large proportion of pupils were from the unskilled working class (if not a large proportion of the unskilled working class). Those who were at grammar schools also did considerably worse than others at the school, again reinforcing the point that they – for all their merits – were not the route to social mobility the rose-tinted spectacle brigade now believe.

  10. In fact quoting another survey done in the late 1950s, of four London schools the proportion of children from semi-skilled or unskilled working class familes in grammar schools was never higher than 25% and in one case just 6.9%. I imagine their share of the population was probably more like 50% at the time.

  11. I attended grammar school from ’64 to ’71 in what was then a mainly industrial town in the north east, currently being non-represented, coincidentally, by one Alan Milburn, but the town had the same requirement for doctors and solicitors as any other, and there were few nearby independent schools to dilute the middle-class contribution to the grammar school population – the nearest was 16 miles away (and as it happens I almost won a scholarship to the second nearest). There’s an excellent girls’ independent school in the town, but the grammar school was boys only. Possibly the grammar school was sufficiently good that only those middle-class boys who failed the 11-plus were whisked off to the independent schools rather than attend the secondary moderns.

    Regarding the cost of attending grammar school, it was little if any more than that of attending secondary modern. Both had uniform requirements, and extra-curricular activities at grammar school were neither compulsory nor expensive; my father was a manual worker and my mother a local authority clerk, but my older brother and I both attended, while my sister was still at junior school.

  12. I would like to confirm Ian Bennett’s experience. I was doing the same thing, at about the same time, in a neighbouring constituency.

    Every town in those days was served by a Grammar and several Secondary Modern schools. The majority of the cohort lived in Council, or private rented accomodation. Almost all the fathers worked down the coal mines, in the shipyards, or on the docks. The intake was overwhelmingly working class. Everyone who was there, got there on the strength of their own exam results. About 120 joined every year. Most stayed through the sixth form, and went on to University or Teacher Training. Very few left at 16.

    But our local Secondary Modern was pretty good too, maybe they felt they had something to prove. Some of my cousins went there, and now they say their education was far better than the tat we are serving up to children today.

    Now there isn’t a single decent high school in this borough. Our main local high school stopped publishing it’s exam results several years ago. There is no standard anymore except equality equals the same rubbish for all.

  13. The Grammar Schools were abolished because they worked, they gave opportunities to youngsters who would otherwise have spent their lives in unskilled factory work.

    And the lefties suddenly realised that the liberated young were beginning to escape from the labour party/ trade union flock.

  14. No, Monty, as I noted above only a tiny minority of pupils from unskilled manual work backgrounds (ie their parents) went to grammars. The rest went to secondary moderns where, and I think this is remarkable, some were so bad that measured IQ fell whilst being there. There is much to commend grammar schools, but let’s not pretend they did anything but for a tiny minority.

    Btw, I have personal experience of a comprehensive school and it provided excellent education to all who went. However I can see flaws in extrapolating that to the whole country.

  15. Just to clarify that should be ‘but for a tiny minority of children from working-class backgrounds’. Grammar schools do a lot well for children from ‘middle class’ (ie upper middle of the income distribution) backgrounds.

  16. @Matthew and John B

    I may not have expressed myself clearly enough in my comment but you can not use statistics relating to current grammar schools to sensibly grasp their historic role in social mobility.

    Please point me to studies that refute this role if you know any.

    Anecdotally you just need to our glorious leaders. We used to be ruled by grammar school boys who are now being displaced by public school boys.

  17. No Matthew, that is rubbish. Sorry, it is not nice to have to say this, but you are stuck on stupid.

    My grammar took it’s intake from a working class seaport, and surrounding pit villages, and it took 120 kids every year. We didn’t have many middle class people. The working class kids were an overwhelming majority. Almost a quarter of the local population went to it.

    And this was repeated all over the country. There were grammar schools all over the place. The middle classes couldn’t monopolise them.

    Recently I have had the misfortune of observing lessons in local comprehensives, and they are dire beyond endurance. Just places you can’t get thrown out of. No discipline, and no academic rigour.

    You mention your experience of comps. Did you go to one?

  18. An aspect, touched upon in 11., is that grammar schools may have helped in increasing mobility not by giving the disadvantaged an opportunity only otherwise available to the prosperous but, rather, by putting the children of the rich and poor together at an early age. In doing so, children regardless of familial background can exist largely on their own merits, rather than those of their parents.

    I attended a grammar in the home counties in the mid 70s. The city had a boys’ grammar, a girls’ grammar and two equiavlent independent schools. Places at the grammars were highly prized even by those from the wealthiest families in a fairly prosperous are of the country. The independent schools, for which the standard was also high, were seen as the long stop alternative for those familieis with money but whose children who failed the 11 plus.

    When again, as was the case in my own schooling, a kid from a blue collar council estate family, shares a classroom with the sons of judges and surgeons, mobility will again increase.

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    My Father attended a private school with assistance from the State and a private scholarship. He then went on to attend Oxford on another scholarship.

    His brother attended a local Grammar.

    My grandparents worked as a dock worker and a hotel cleaner. They never owned their own home. Does that count as manual unskilled labour?

    The Blair Government, I believe, abolished the assisted places scheme. On equality grounds.

    (As the child of idealistic Leftists, I attended the local Comp. Mostly useless.)

  20. “No, Monty, as I noted above only a tiny minority of pupils from unskilled manual work backgrounds (ie their parents) went to grammars.”

    Yet you have two people here telling you, from their own experience, that this is not the case. Entry to grammar schools was on the basis of the 11-plus exam which, as far as I recall, had no question relating to the occupation of one’s parents. In those days, relatively poor parents tended to encourage academic achievement in their children, to enable a better life than they, the parents, had.

    Of my own cohort (which by that time was co-ed, due to the abolition of grammar schools in the town, and the merging of the boys’ and girls’ schools), a significant proportion went on to university, and by no means were all of those middle class.

  21. “Our main local high school stopped publishing it’s exam results several years ago.”

    No it didn’t, if you’re in the UK: all schools are obliged to publish their exam results. This doesn’t reflect brilliantly on the accuracy of your other assertions…

    “Yet you have two people here telling you, from their own experience, that this is not the case”

    But they’re two people whose experience is highly unrepresentative, based on the actual data that Matthew has actually found.

    Specifically – if grammar schools are obliged to take 25% of the population in an area, and that area is 90% unskilled working class, then yes, the grammar school there will be mostly working class by definition.

    But most areas in the UK, even in the 1950s-1970s, were not 90% unskilled working class. And in areas where the proportion of middle-class and skilled working class families was above 25%, they logically would have, and indeed actually did, make up the vast majority of grammar school pupils…

  22. “Yet you have two people here telling you, from their own experience, that this is not the case”

    It’s not quite a peer-reviewed scientific study, is it? Two guys on a website. In fact you don’t even show consistency, in that I am telling you that your views on comprehensives are wrong.
    (However I have the grace to admit that you shouldn’t take one person’s view of it as much evidence of anything).

    There’s loads of reports from the time about grammar schools not helping social mobility. Try google books.

  23. “But most areas in the UK, even in the 1950s-1970s, were not 90% unskilled working class. And in areas where the proportion of middle-class and skilled working class families was above 25%, they logically would have, and indeed actually did, make up the vast majority of grammar school pupils…”

    That’s an idiotic complaint, because those areas that were predominantly working class were, in those days, well served by local grammar schools. Their entrance standard was based on exam success only, and the working class kids went to them. In their thousands.

    I suspect you are trying to rewrite history to suit your propaganda.

  24. There is nothing unusual about my personal experience. That’s what the North-East of England was like at the time . The time was the 1960s. And I think you will find a lot of other parts of the country were the same.

    I went to a Grammar School with nearly a thousand kids in it, and more than 70% of their Dads worked down the pit, on the docks, or on the railways. Another major group was the kids whose fathers were unemployed because the shipyard had closed. Lots of kids qualified for financial help to buy the school uniform. Many got free school dinners.
    Our headmaster campaigned for us to get free bus travel to and from school because so many families were strapped for cash.

    And when I got to University (1972) I met a whole load of other youngsters who had come up through the same route. Quite a lot of us were on the full maintenance grant.

  25. I wrote to Mr Milburn. While he was courteous to respond to my letter, he avoided answering all points that referred to the failings in his government.

    Sometimes you have to wonder whether
    Ministers truly understand the effect their decision-making has on people and the impact on there social mobility.

    Serious failings have been made in government to deal with policies that do nothing at all to protect the tax-payer – especially when I have experienced MPs not wanting to deal with matters relating to such failings and the detrimental affect it has on ones life and social mobility.

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