Here are some gems:
‘What happens in schools will have the greatest influence on social mobility’ Mr Milburn seems to think that having a more educated workforce will magic jobs into being. It won’t. If anything, without any underlying change in the wider economic picture, a more skilled workforce would drive down salaries and wages. Higher, better quality, employment is a function of the jobs market, not labour skills. And more people with qualifications will – unless the economy picks up - simply mean that people without jobs will have more qualifications, and those who do have jobs will be paid less. Of course we want a highly educated workforce – who wouldn’t want that? But we need more good jobs to increase social mobility, and jobs come with prosperity and expansion of the jobs market, which is beyond the remit of education.
‘Poor schools hold back poorer children’. How many times do we have to go through this? Ofsted judge schools on achievement which is a function of intake. So poor children attend schools which are judged to be poor, not the other way around. The vast majority of schools do a good job of educating those who attend them, and those which struggle do so for reasons beyond the remit of school.
‘Low expectations hold children back’. According to the Social Mobility Commission’s Cracking the Code report, teachers say that they emphatically do not have ‘low expectations’ of their children. Those surveyed did, apparently, think that other teachers have low expectations – the “Wasn’t me, it was everyone else” argument which has long been a favourite of school children everywhere. It’s extraordinary that this hearsay is reported as having any validity. It’s politically driven nonsense.
‘London can do it, so can you’. The London Effect – despite research from CMBO and the IFS demonstrating otherwise, as mentioned but largely dismissed by Mr Milburn – is still being spun as being a function of government policy rather than the unusual social make up of London, which is an increasingly odd Global island in the southern part of England. Unless other parts of the country can attract ambitious parents and their children in huge numbers, there is no comparison whatsoever.
‘We can close the gap between poor children and everyone else’. The damaging Closing the Gap narrative – imported wholesale from the USA, where it has equally damaging effects – completely ignores the reason why some children achieve more in school, focusing instead on the overall progress of those who are poor, thus, in effect, holding schools responsible for social inequality. Children who achieve more in school – as shown by the recent the Sutton Trust’s Subject to Background report, for example – do so because of support they receive outside of school, not because their schooling is any better. And just how you help one group at the expense of another – based purely on how wealthy their parents are – has not been shown to work, and it's hard to see exactly how that might happen given what we know about the nature of disadvantage.
All of this stuff is not new. Alan Milburn has provided a clear summary of the views of a certain type of policy maker: Those who see education as a function of schools and teachers rather than of children and parents. It is, as many of us never tire of pointing out, a little more complicated than that.