How the meritocracy (doesn't) work

We aspire to be a meritocracy, or so we're told; we are a long long way off achieving it. You can judge for yourself how much you believe in Theresa May's sincerity and strategy on this on June 8th. 

For various and complex historical reasons, the more privileged you are the more likely it is you will succeed at school, at university and at work. It is a problem. Millions of children are not reaching their academic potential and thus, not reaching their full potential as human beings. There are millions of smart, talented pupils out there who never make it to higher education, some don't even make it to A-Level. The consequence of this is that we aren't producing the doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, architects, scientists, inventors and so on in the quantities we need to. So much human potential is being wasted. If you were lucky enough to go to a Comprehensive school you'll be able to think of at least one classmate who was clever and hardworking but never made it to University, not because they weren't talented enough, but because the circumstances they were growing up in prevented them from flourishing into the person they should have become.  

The problem is the same in the US, probably a little more extreme, in some cases a lot more extreme. But please don't dismiss what comes next based on a loose belief that things aren't as bad here in the UK. Things are nearly as bad and education policy here seems to be aping US policy more and more each year. Malcolm Gladwell, of 'The Tipping Point' fame, has a podcast called Revisionist History, it is excellent. If you like his writing, you'll like this. I have just listened to a miniseries he released in June last year. Over three episodes (episodes 4, 5 and 6) he explores how difficult it is for talented but poor young people to get into university. 

Episode four, Carlos doesn't remember, focuses on the barriers and challenges faced by pupils from the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles.

Episode five, Food Fight, looks at the difference between two liberal arts colleges, particularly how one of them is trying hard to provide education opportunities for all, while others focus on swelling their profits.

Episode six, My little hundred million, tells the story of Hank Rowan and philanthropy in education. 

All three episodes are fascinating, listening to them now makes me wonder what impact the widespread reintroduction of Grammar Schools might have on children's prospects here (especially those who will not have the extra tutoring needed to pass the entrance exams). 



Morgan Phillips