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Over the past few weeks Conservative candidate for Eastleigh Maria Hutchings, had shown herself to be many things. Ignorant? Yep. Crass? Check. The Conservative answer to Sarah Palin? Quite possibly. Finger on the pulse of an ever divided nation? In some senses yes. Her comments that state education was ill-suited to her son who wanted to be a cardio-respiratory surgeon were one of the many outbursts that led to her campaign for election to wilt and perish before polling day. However amongst the outrage at her comments and the demonization of a mother who wanted the best for her son I can’t help but feel the point has been lost. What Maria Hutchings said was tactless, rash and most importantly wrong but it stemmed from a society that exacerbates class divides and repeatedly denigrates the Comprehensive schooling system.
It is a sad fact of 21st century Britain that equality of opportunity is a myth which is not close to being realised. And this is merely supplemented by an education system which allows the richest in society to pay for an education greater than the state can offer. 7% of the population of Great Britain are private school alumni yet they are disproportionately represented in almost every elite field in the country.
Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities have been criticized for the background of the students they admit, which many people have been quick to say is improving. However it still remains unequal as 42.5% of their latest intake are independently educated. Education one of the greatest methods of social mobility seems to favour the richest over the poorest and has helped create what Alan Johnson described as one of the most ‘pernicious dividing issues’ in our country.
The Sutton Trust conducted a report into the educational backgrounds of the ‘Nations leading people’ and found that 44% of the people from the list were educated at independent schools. And 12% of the list came from just ten independent schools. It is this which has created what some people describe as a ‘born to rule’ approach from independent school graduates who it is impressed upon at an early age that they are cut from a different cloth.
This attitude is evident nowhere else more than in the House of Commons where currently 33% of sitting MPs were educated independently. Looking even further up the hierarchy, into cabinet, 62% of ministers gained their education because of their family’s finances. It would seem in parliament in particular ‘born to rule’ is taken far too literally.
As an immediate reaction to Ms. Hutchings’ remarks twitter went into frenzy as state school educated students were quick to point out their success. And some were mightily impressive but I can’t help but feel it misses the point. It still remains a staggering dividing issue in Britain where you went to school and Maria Hutchings was simply playing the odds game with her children’s future and choosing the safest bet.
Others have chosen differently, her opposing Labour candidate, John O’Farrell in an open letter to Nick Clegg recently described private schools as ‘keeping kids in a hermetically sealed bubble of privilege where the only injustice and inequality is that Piers has a home-cinema in his basement and your boys don’t’, a gross exaggeration but surely a pertinent question is whether it is better for children to be educated with a range of societal classes rather than one? That is what parents must decide but I don’t particularly envy the decision.
Despite the advances of many people from state education the fact remains that they are at a disadvantage to those from public schools, more often than not even before they have started school. So why the need for the further leg up? Maria Hutchings’ comments were ignorant and reflective of a political party that has little regard for anything reaching equality in society but why the outrage at the remarks and not the system which had helped foster this view? The most depressing aspect of Maria Hutchings’ comment wasn’t the ignorance, the stupidity of it or the fact she was actually wrong. To be honest it’s because, I can quite understand why she thinks it.