Thursday, September 04, 2008

Undergraduates are more than their parents bank balance

Why is it that if you say you think GCSEs or A-Levels have become easier you are instantly attacked for running down the hard work of pupils from the Left. However, if you're on the Left and you write or say that a student from a private school has only achieved what they have because of money you are not denigrating that pupil's effort?

I ask this because there is a rather classic Johann Hari piece of bollocks in the Independent this morning about Oxbridge and admissions which essentially makes the latter point. Go to private school and you're more likely to get a place and this is only because you're wealthy and not because actually you might be really bloody clever and deserve it.

It never ceases to amaze me the way a pupil from a private school is automagically assumed to be not worth what they achieve because they went to private school, whilst a pupil from a state school must be reletively cleverer if you take into account their social background and assess their attainment with that in mind.

Putting aside the seemingly cavalier way the achievements of one are easily swept aside whilst the lesser acheivements of others are puffed up to create some sort of equilibrium of "effort". What is more irritating is this assumption that wealth is equal to good active parents in their child's lives, whilst poverty means the opposite.

This is the single flaw in the reletivistic approach to University admissions. Just because a kid comes from a poor social background it does not follow that their parents didn't encourage them, teach them, buy them books, take them to the library. Likewise, it does not follow that a child born with a silver spoon will get all the books in the world and great educational support from their parents.

To think that outcome of life, which is complex and unknowable, can be reduced to these sort of variable pseudo-scientific considerations is some of the very worst behaviourism and essentially bad science being portrayed as good. It isn't helped along either when members of the commentariat try to bolster their argument with comments such as,
Today, a third of all Oxbridge students come from just 100 top schools
Guess what, that means that 66%, well over half of them, don't. Yet the figure is still an outrage apparently. At what point will it not be though? 25%? 20%? 10%? 1%? When will it be that admissions from private schools are acceptable? Something tells me it never will be.

The bottom line is that good and bad parents are not defined by wealth. They're defined by whether they give a shit about their children or not and how much they do to show it. The logical conclusion of Johann Hari's argument is that if you're from a poor social background then you're parents are crap and don;t care and only reletivistic assessment of attainment will help.

Tell me, how exactly does that encourage social mobility when at it's core is the constant hammering home to one group that they cannot achieve without the state intervening, and on the other telling students that their not actually worth anything more than the content of their parents wallet?

27 comments:

haddock said...

as the number of pupils gaining a place at Oxbridge is one of the factors in defining a top school..it is not at all surprising that "Today, a third of all Oxbridge students come from just 100 top schools"
in fact it would be silly if they did not

john miller said...

I know sod all about Johann Hari and was quite content to leave it like that. Inever read his columns now. I tried it a few times, but my cat writes better prose ,has a wider world view and generally makes more sense than Mr Hari.

Still, on reading your post, I deduced one fact about him and I thought I'd confirm it with a bit of research. Yep, he went to a selective college to gain his A levels. Naughty boy, getting an advantage over all the peasants...

All these lefty bastards should have "hypocrite" stamped on their foreheads, so you know not to bother indulgin in rational debate with them.

Stoo said...

It's not hard to believe that kids who's parents have more resources will have an advantage. Not a hard and fast rule, just a general trend.

That's not to say heavy-handed government regulation should be cheered on, of course.

Tom Paine said...

I couldn't agree more, but it's not really a matter of "good" or "bad" parenting. My parents were "good". They encouraged me, bought me books and went without to pay for school trips, drama courses, that kind of thing. They asked teachers for advice and acted on it, even if they didn't understand it. But they were relatively uneducated themselves (I was the first in my family - Kinnochio style - to go to University). Obviously they couldn't advise me as well as my wife and I could advise our children. In consequence I went to a not so hot university on non-academic grounds that seemed sensible at the time.

I went to a comp and so did my wife. We knew and supported each other at school, which helped to resist the peer pressure NOT to perform in state schools, which was way too strong for most pupils. I was stoned by a gang of cretins (and suckers-up to cretins) for being a "swot". Actually I hardly "swotted" at all, I just coasted on natural ability - but they were communist enough to hate success however achieved. Lots of my school friends were bright enough to have benefitted far more than they did from their education especially as - all those years ago - the state had not applied a ludicrous misunderstanding of Marxism (never adopted in the USSR, PRC or Cuba) so as to side with stupid kids in applying pressure NOT to excel.

My children went to a major public school. Their education has been so superior to ours that we have felt less and less educated as they have progressed. I think we only fully realised when our first daughter sat her GSCEs just how uneducated (or to be kind to ourselves, self-educated) we are.

In educating our children privately, we did NOT pay for privilege. With our working-class backgrounds we were actually (and as it turned out quite unjustifiably) nervous about the whole exercise. We bought (at the greatest single expense of our lives) better-motivated and managed teachers, operating in better facilities, in a culture where parental concern, teacher professionalism and even peer pressure promotes learning. Of course that tells, especially combined with natural talent. We would have been shit parents not to do it, given that we could (just about) afford it. I utterly despise idiots like Paul McCartney for sending their children to state schools for PR reasons, combined with being too stupid to know what opportunity they are denying them. Of course I utterly respect those parents who can't afford it (like mine, and my wife's) but who do everything else they can to encourage their children and provide a counterweight to negative peer pressure.

My elder daughter is at Cambridge and took crap from the state school pupils there who were educated in class hatred. You can imagine how that rankled with me, as a working class lad from oop North, but she took it in her stride. They have shut up now she was in the top 5 in the exams in the whole University this year, not just her college or her faculty. You can't buy that kind of ability. She deserves her success. As someone who went to a crap state school, however, I know there are people like her whose talents are being thrown away and it disgusts me. As does the Labour Party's destruction of the selective education system which produced the greatest social mobility in our history. As does the attitude of defectives like Hari, who think that denying education to all in the name of equality is a good thing.

dizzy said...

"It's not hard to believe that kids who's parents have more resources will have an advantage. Not a hard and fast rule, just a general trend."

Hedging.

Oxbridge Prat said...

The reply from Boonery on Hari's page is exactly right, so I take the liberty of copying it here:

Why do so many journalists who went to oxbridge try to seem cool by attacking it?

1) the interview is the main device which allows tutors to bypass a-level results, which are much higher among students from private schools. (despite JH's statement) Abolish it, and the proportion of public school students will go up. Also more of them try to get in. Oxbridge cannot take people who don't apply.

2) In the 70's the proportions were better -- about 70 pct state. The numbers fell when the government abolished grammar schools, preferring to give everyone a poor education rather than some a good one. Grammar schools were unfair; the solution was rubbish.

3) Most Oxbridge tutors are themselves from the state sector -- the pay is too bad for Etonians. If they don't choose people from the state sector it is often because they cannot. They are not well enough prepared to survive. In my experience, they bend over backwards and dance a jig when they find someone from a Comp they can take

Stoo said...

Ok, they *will* have an advantage. Happy?

dizzy said...

Not really because it doesn't stand up to scrutiny as my piece is trying to point out. It is based on a pseudoscientific assumption about what having money means, and it not always by neccesity the case.

Incidentally, before anyone thinks I went to private school or anything like that, I didn't. I went to a grammar only after having been expelled from secondary modern, I didn't do A Level, I went on to FE college and then ended up at a former poly.

Stoo said...

Well put it this way I agree that good and bad parents aren't defined by wealth. However, your likelihood of getting a good start in life will be heavily influenced by it.

Anonymous said...

If going to a private school does not give its pupils an advantage why do parents spend so much money to send their children there?

Tom Paine

'In educating our children privately, we did NOT pay for privilege.... We bought (at the greatest single expense of our lives) better-motivated and managed teachers, operating in better facilities, in a culture where parental concern, teacher professionalism and even peer pressure promotes learning.'

No privilege?

I don't begrudge other people's wealth or education but I do think having better teachers and better facilities makes it easier to achieve better results. As this is what you pay for at a private school I do think going to a private school gives kids an advantage in the same way a better coach gives a sportsperson an advantage on top of any natural talent.

dizzy said...

Som,etimes parents have more money than sense. The point is there ar emany people who go to private school who do not do not do well, likewise there are many who don;t go to private school who do.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy

'The point is there are many people who go to private school who do not do well, likewise there are many who don't go to private school who do.'

Hedging?

dizzy said...

No not really, because what I am saying is clearly that it does not follow that going to private school accord extra advantage. Likewise it does not follow by necessaity that not going to private school provides disadavantge.

In comparison, the statement of Hari and others is that private school does give advanatge and not going does give disadvanatge. My positon is not reductionist. that's not about hedging, it;s about saying you cannot reduce the complexity of the world down to dodgy pseudo scientific certainity like Hari et al are doing.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy

'you cannot reduce the complexity of the world down to dodgy pseudo scientific certainity like Hari et al are doing.'

I wouldn't dream of it. I try, as much as my education allows, to live in the real world. I think going to a better school gives one a better education, which is in turn an advantage. I think having better educated parents who can help more with homework and coursework provides an advantage. Not everything is so simple and there are always exceptions to any general rule. However your argument rests on not being determinist, given the overwhelming statistical success of private schools and children from more affluent backgrounds this is a thin piece of ice. Why do religious schools do so well, because they take more middle class pupils through their admissions process or because learning about God makes one smarter.

Lola said...

Tom Paine - yep.

Look at it from the point of view of the teaching profession.

Mrs Lola is a teacher, and a bloody good one. She teaches at a local comp of huge size. Most of her colleagues are good and committed teachers. Quite a few are not. She is wildly underpaid for what she has to do and put up with. the school is run as a fiefdom by an admittedly very successful headteacher. And it produces good results. Well, relatively good with other inadequate schools.

Problem is it is part of a state monopoly. The whole place is managed from afar by bureaucratic dictat in a manner which is designed to limit damage to politicians. No teacher can exhibit any real innovation (and I do not mean in daft new methods). the management is dire. It lacks the managment resources to properly run its budget and has limited control over what it does. the whole place is crying out to be privatised.

But to their discredit most of the teachers just will not see this as a viable alternative. I am very happy to be argued with but none of them ever produce a logical arument as to why this could be better. They are, most of them, stuck in the predict and provide mentality. But, encouragingly over the last few years a few more are starting to see how a sunlit upland awaits an independent school that teaches state funded pupils.

At the same time the lefty loons that persist in the country need to stick very hard to the alledged 'success' of state education and health. For if tehy do not, they know that their whole philosophy is doomed.

You can expect the most unpleasant of fights to sort out this mess.

dizzy said...

"I think going to a better school gives one a better education"

What if the pupil doesn't listen?

"I think having better educated parents who can help more with homework and coursework provides an advantage."

What if they don't help?

"Not everything is so simple and there are always exceptions to any general rule."

Exceptions disprove rules

"However your argument rests on not being determinist, given the overwhelming statistical success of private schools and children from more affluent backgrounds this is a thin piece of ice."

Induction.

Anonymous said...

Will you accept that private schools give one the oopportunity to have an advantage over pupils who do not go to schools with as good teaching standards and facilities? If the pupil does not take advantage it's their fault but the opportunity is still there right?

stoo said...

What if they don't listen, what if they don't help, what if the house burns down one day, what if the kids run off to join the circus.

We're talking likelihoods and trends here. (maybe I should have stuck to hedging :p) Not absolute rules that are disproved by the son of a road-sweeper getting a phd.

Also you haven't answered exactly what private schools are for, if they provide no advantage?

dizzy said...

"Will you accept that private schools give one the oopportunity to have an advantage over pupils who do not go to schools with as good teaching standards and facilities?"

No, because there are quite few shit private schools that don't do that and are out-performed by the state sector.

We're talking likelihoods and trends here.

Alternatively called assumptions based on extrapolation. Also known as induction.

Also you haven't answered exactly what private schools are for, if they provide no advantage?

Private schools are fro teaching people. Your problem here is the assumption that a private school gives an advanatge,. A quick look, as already metnioned, at the highest performing state schools, shows that private does not equal advantage of facilities, teaching etc. Again you are making the mistake of assuming that if someone pays their money out for something it must by necessity mean it is better than that which they could get free. A quick look at the operatin systems of compuetrs illustrates why buying something does not mean that it must be better.

McSweeney said...

Strange blog post. You've chosen to concentrate on the notion that it is about good or bad parenting - which undoubtedly plays a part - when that's not the main factor or even what Hari's article is mostly about.
He's writing about the preparation and advantage you get from a private school education. Which is entirely true and hugely influential. Surely no-one is going to deny that weekly classes to prep you for interview puts you ahead of someone who turns up not knwoing what to expect? Regardless of whether your parents are good or bad.
Although that stat is, as you say, a load of bollocks.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy:

'your problem here is the assumption that a private school gives an advanatge,. A quick look, as already metnioned, at the highest performing state schools, shows that private does not equal advantage of facilities, teaching etc.'

That is my problem and you make a fair point. I agree with your initial post aswell. However what happens when you compare the worst private with the worst state as well as the best with the best?


Also I do believe, on the issue of cost benefit, regardless of what a product is worth in real terms, that if a person pays money for something they value it more than something they got for free which means they are more likely to take greater advantage of it. This is one reason why I am in favour of affordable student fees. Call it a placeabo effect if you will. The product may be the same whatever the cost however people will work harder for an investment than a free ride.

You may say this is further induction or worse, but you might also agree. In which case you might admit that school fees and university fees increase the attitude of aspiration you {and I} are keen to see in all
levels of British society, in order to help social mobility. It is this attitude and ethos of aspiration that provides one of the most sincere although intagible advantages of private education.

Regards and thanks for debating.

dizzy said...

McSweeny, actually I havn't done that, I am making the point that Hari is starting from the assumption that private education is, by necessity, better in all cases. It is not, as is evidenced by the perfromance of a number of state schools. Hari is making broad brush remarks about private education being like X, when there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it isn't. He also complains for some reasons that well under half the students at Oxbridge are privately educated.

Snuffy said...

Dizzy
Some of what you say is true, but it isn't as simple as that. I'll write a post. Drop by and have a look once I've written it...

david cameron's forehead said...

You cannot seriously deny that:

a. Regardless of the fact that there are a few excellent grammar schools & some fairly mediocre private schools, there is still an enormous gulf between the average of private schools & the average of state schools, & sink schools are even worse. Proceeding by averages rather than a few cases which are statistically insignificant...
b. The average private school pupil would automatically & immediately perform worse if removed & enrolled in a sink comprehensive.
c. The average pupil at a sink comprehensive would automatically & immediately perform better if removed & enrolled in a private school.
d. The level of aspiration in the wider community & the quality of teaching has an effect on a child/adolescent's ambition or lack thereof.
e. Many undergraduates at top universities put in mediocre performances, whereas some of their peers at lesser universities do exceptionally well.
f. Accordingly, there is no strict correlation between going to a top university, going to a lower achieving university, or not going to university at all, & the natural level of intelligence or the end result in terms of performance.

You can choose whether or not to make an issue of these facts, whether to try to do something about it & if so what, but you can't realistically deny that they are facts.

You'd really be better off deleting this post & sparing yourself the blushes.

dizzy said...

You cannot seriously deny that:
a. Regardless of the fact that there are a few excellent grammar schools & some fairly mediocre private schools, there is still an enormous gulf between the average of private schools & the average of state schools, & sink schools are even worse. Proceeding by averages rather than a few cases which are statistically insignificant...


I don't beleive I was denying this in the first place? What I was pointing out was that the generalist argument being proposed by the likes of Hari was logically flawed and in the realm of pseudo-scientific grand narratives about the nature of wealth and what it must, by necessity, bring.

Put simply, whilst "statistically insignificant" they remain scientifically significant because they disprove the rule that Hari is trying to put forward regarding wealth and what outcomes are acheived. I am not saying that going to private school does not give an advanatge ever, I am saying that you cannot say that it does in all cases because there is evidence to show that it does not.

In effect what I am actually attacking is the pseudo-science inherent in these social theories that choose one single factor and assess the world accordingly. I am saying that it far more complex than that and not strictly deterministic. That incidnetally is why I read Snuffy with interest because whilst she complained about my piece we are actually alot closer than she realises.

I was not saying that it's all about whether you have good parents or bad parents. I was saying that you you can't just say it's because of wealth because even the welathy can be crap parents, likewise the poor can be good parents. I'm not negating other factor by saying that I am simply negating the argument about wealth alone.


You cannot seriously deny that:
b. The average private school pupil would automatically & immediately perform worse if removed & enrolled in a sink comprehensive.


That is not necessarily so.

You cannot seriously deny that:
c. The average pupil at a sink comprehensive would automatically & immediately perform better if removed & enrolled in a private school.


See previous answer.

You cannot seriously deny that:
d. The level of aspiration in the wider community & the quality of teaching has an effect on a child/adolescent's ambition or lack thereof.


As with (a) I never suggested that it didn't. I admit that by ommission you may think that I did, but my post was a quick response to the general argument that has repeatedly been pushed by Hari that if your parents are rich it automatically follows, by essentially Marxian materialist theory, that they will give you more advanatges than if parents are poor.

In my view that actually denigrates the very aspiration you're referring too and pushes a line that those who are poor have their lot and the rich are just bastards. Again, it ain't necessarily so.

You cannot seriously deny that:
e. Many undergraduates at top universities put in mediocre performances, whereas some of their peers at lesser universities do exceptionally well.


What is the relevance of this to my post?

You cannot seriously deny that:
f. Accordingly, there is no strict correlation between going to a top university, going to a lower achieving university, or not going to university at all, & the natural level of intelligence or the end result in terms of performance.


I'm not sure again what the relevance of this is to my post exactly. As I said above, my post was an argument against the idea that being welathy automatically brings success because you can go to a private school. The fact that there are numerous people who come from wealthy backgrounds, went to private school, and failed, disproves that generalised assertion. That was only ever my point rather than the straw men you seem to be creating here.

You can choose whether or not to make an issue of these facts, whether to try to do something about it & if so what, but you can't realistically deny that they are facts.

Well I can certainly deny (b) and (c) are facts because they're not, they're assumptions on your part and also make logicaslly dangerous causal links between individual acts. In fact they're basically post hoc ergo propter hoc arguments.

You'd really be better off deleting this post & sparing yourself the blushes.

Not quite sure why this would be the case. Whilst you have written and made some point the vast majority of them are straw men based upon a flawed analysis of the original post. You've esentially taken my ommission of something to be a negation of it.

Incidentally, was I sneeringly dismissive and not addressing what you said?

david cameron's forehead said...

It is a good answer, but I am still much closer to Hari than you in my views.

In (e) and (f), I was addressing the view, which Hari (rightly in my view) identifies as shite, that those who go to Oxbridge are necessarily the cleverest. They are not, because those who go to Russell Group universities are generally equal to them in academic prowess, while many who do not fare well academically are as intelligent or more so.

I take your point that going to private school does not automatically guarantee someone acadmic success and a glittering career, but I stand by my assertion in (b) and (c) that they make them more likely for any given student. As the man himself says, "several studies have shown that when rich people adopt kids from poor backgrounds, those children go on to do just as well".

When I was at school not so long ago, my school had a GCSE pass rate in the 20s, whereas at some private schools in the area it is close to or at 100. It's really hard to avoid the conclusion that some people perform at well above or below their level of ability because of their environments.

My ruminations are not necessarily a direct response to your post and the points you raise, just random thoughts on the whole issue...

dizzy said...

As the man himself says, "several studies have shown that when rich people adopt kids from poor backgrounds, those children go on to do just as well".

Again here though we have the problem - which is inherent in social [pseudo]science - of the post hoc ergo propter hoc.