In 1985 Oxford University launched a drive to recruit under graduates from families where the income was on a level, or below the average. Letters were dispatched to all non-fee paying (note, NOT comprehensive schools) across the UK and yours truly was invited to sit the Oxford Entrance Exam (which I passed) and then attend an interview process at a College of choice. Mine was Wadham as my history teacher; the inspirational John Oxley reasoned that its Left Wing credentials would make it more sympathetic to my “talents”, such as they were.
The process was a disaster due to the fact that the College tutors would have rather stuck pins in their eyes than gone along with a positive discrimination policy, and destroyed my self-confidence for a good while, as well as giving an unnecessary chip on my shoulder against well-spoken privately educated people, which made life difficult when I first entered the teaching profession as I was wholly unequipped to deal with individuals whom I sub consciously thought were better than me.
That’s why Harriet Harman’s well intentioned but ultimately ill thought out policy proposal to make it a tenant of law that the Public Sector should aim to recruit a workforce that reflects social background is patronising, divisive and exhibits the worst aspects of what others perceive Socialism to be all about.
It is typical of the self-loathing and insecurity of Harman who despite all the advantages of the best Private education could only further her career by use of the women only short lists firstly to enter Parliament, and then to gain election to the Shadow Cabinet.
Her first tenure in Government ended in the sack after just a year, for failing to be on top of even the most basic parts of her brief as Social Security Secretary (1997/98).
She comes across as hectoring in the best Nanny Knows Best style and what she fails to realise is that the best way to promote stalled social mobility is to support family life through the benefits system and to reward attendance at Sure Start centres and give incentives for families to achieve a high level of school attendance.
Such an initiative exists for post 16 via the Education Maintenance Allowance (which along with Sure Start and the New Deal the Tories want to abolish), so why not use some imagination in filtering this idea down the age scale.
If kids are attending and engaged at school then all the stats show an incremental chance of positive life outcomes.
But what the Government fail to recognise is that after socio economic issues the one 100% concrete factor that determines educational, and generally life chance outcomes is whether a child’s parents live together.
This maybe a functionalist approach, but hell the evidence is there for all to see. Family breakdown equals an anvil being tied to the child’s foot as it tries to make it’s way in life.
Society needs to encourage family life, encourage families the understanding is instilled in their children, that we must all do things we dislike, keep appointments, finish what we start and eat up our greens.
You get my drift here. There is too much not saying no, and in my experience across my career the real warning bells sound when the parent describes their offspring as “my best friend”, when what they really mean is “I am an emotional retard and rely on my kid as a consumer of feelings”.
University and access to the professions needs to be based on merit, whilst obviously making it clear that gender, race, disability and all those factors should not be used against people to hold them down.
If not the Labour Party will be seen to be retreating to the last refuge of the scoundrel socialist, that of Class War and the politics of jealousy which blighted us in the ‘Eighties and allowed the Tories a free hand to do their worst.
Footnote: Can anyone explain what the ding-dong dang this actually means; “Among other proposals is an initiative to combat a lack of economic opportunities in communities. The government is setting up an initiative in 15 areas in which parents, schools, businesses, third-sector organisations and local agencies will work together to meet local needs and boost the aspirations of local people.”
Err, you what?