Elitist UK: banning private education would be a start

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Last month, a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission railed against what it saw as the UK’s ingrained elitism. Its knock-me-down-with-a-feather conclusion was that the upper echelons of Westminster politics, law, the media and other senior professions continue to be dominated by – or at least disproportionately filled with – people who were privately educated, people who went to Oxbridge, or, in many cases, both.

For anyone who’s been paying attention for the last forty years, this isn’t in the least bit surprising. The modicum of social mobility enabled by post-war social democracy was dramatically thrown into reverse after 1979, and in the neoliberal era that has followed, the wealth of the family you were born in determines your life prospects more now than it has done in half a century. Continue reading

A Nation Of Prudes Obsessed With Sex

We’re more fixated with sex than ever, it seems, but still in a strange, repressed, unhealthy manner.

Soldier your way through the Political Compass survey, the internet’s go-to ‘what the hell am I politically’ test, and near the end you’re asked to pass judgement on the following statement: ‘These days openness about sex has gone too far’.

Presumably – I have neither the time nor the inclination to spend the necessary hours twiddling with the survey to find out for sure – if you agree, you’re nudged further to the authoritarian right, and if you disagree you join the teeming legions of people who’d be put in camps if the Daily Mail ever took over. Continue reading

Abolishing Oxbridge with Owen Jones

Oxford

Oxford

The Bemolution recently stumbled across this old article by consistently excellent Owen Jones that calls for the abolition of Oxbridge. To step out of character for a minute, my own experiences as a state-educated hick somehow ending up at Cambridge lead me to the exact same conclusion.

Oxford and Cambridge are archaic little crevices in which privilege, self-assumed superiority and detachment from reality are allowed to fester. Toppling Oxbridge wouldn’t eradicate the inequality that’s already unacceptably massive and still growing, but it would be a vital part of any serious egalitarian advance on all fronts.

That said, I think Jones is actually too generous about Oxbridge in his piece. There is absolutely no doubt that Oxbridge educations are of a very high standard. But I think it’s a mistake to assume – as so many do – that this is the result of its all-surpassing teaching methods, world-beating curriculums, or something inherently superior about its olde-worlde aesthetic, ethos, and general outlook. Continue reading

Jameela Jamil – Porn, What’s The Harm

Jamil intellectually ambushing ex-porn star Gemma Massey

Jamil intellectually ambushing ex-porn star Gemma Massey

Last night, a Radio One DJ hosted an intriguing TV programme about porn. Thanks to the internet, it’s proving increasingly inescapable, she said, and young people are being exposed to it at earlier and earlier ages. Earnest Jameela Jamil clearly cared, and wanted to protect vulnerable kids from exploitation and abuse. But in parts, her show demonstrated just the kind of squeamishness that lies behind so many of our unhealthy attitudes towards sex.

The BBC and market research bods ICM have conducted a survey of young people, asking them about their experiences with porn. Over a thousand 16-21 year-olds were interviewed. Just under a quarter claimed they were 12 or under when they first watched online porn. An eyebrow-raising 7.3% claimed they were under ten. And for Aunty, the pollsters, and bookish private school product turned T4 presenter and Radio One It Girl Jameela Jamil, the results were shocking enough to make a telly programme out of them.

BBC Three’s ‘Porn: What’s the harm?’ began with likeable Jamil delivering a monologue about shagging. ‘I’m very liberated about sex and relationships’, she said. With the best will in the world to someone willing to risk ridicule by speaking out about something she genuinely cares about – decrying the over-sexualisation of modern culture presumably not being the savviest career move in the perennially cold shower-requiring world of shit RnB – a lot of what was to come over the next hour suggested she wasn’t. Continue reading

Teach First Isn’t Very Good, And Neither Is Rampant Neoliberalism

The 'Tough Young Teachers', posing ridiculously

The ‘Tough Young Teachers’, posing ridiculously

The Bemolution has largely given up watching TV because most of it’s rubbish, but we’re informed by persevering telly-watchers that there’s a programme on about Teach First.

Teach First is a government initiative designed to encourage ‘high-flying’ university leavers to have a go at teaching before they join one of the more conventional graduate employers. Its stated aims are reasonably well-meaning. ‘Top’ graduates rarely go into education, the logic runs. They’ll go to into banking, PR, marketing and the like, but for some reason consistently dodge anything socially useful. If that excellence could be harnessed and directed at educating some of the most disadvantaged people in the country, perhaps it could strike a resounding blow against social inequality.

Successful applicants are put through six weeks training then sent off to work in a school for two years – almost always one in a heavily deprived part of the country. They get a nominated mentor, a fellow teacher at the school, and various other forms of support from Teach First itself, but in the classroom they’re very much on their own. And it’s here, apparently, that the BBC’s Tough Young Teachers looms in to follow the progress of six new Teach Firsters.

Someone who’s watched it told us that the featured newbies were posh and useless. That’s probably unfair, and/or a massive over-generalisation. And if it isn’t, you can hardly blame rich, socially segregated graduates who aren’t much more than kids themselves for being bad teachers when they’re parachuted into the toughest schools in the country after a month or so of PowerPoint presentations. Continue reading