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Posh and Posher's constructive criticism

Andrew Neil | 12:58 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

Much encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response in previews, reviews, e-mails and tweets to my social mobility/meritocracy documentary, Posh and Posher, which went out on BBC2 Wednesday night and is still available on BBC iPlayer.

Also grateful to those who were constructively critical, because they have contributed enormously to exactly the kind of debate the programme was designed to spark. But I'm curious about the minority, led by the estimable columnist Steve Richards, who just wanted to dismiss it as an apologia for grammar schools and a call for the return of the 11+.

I suppose some folks hear and see only what they want to hear and see. But for the record this is what the documentary said as it approached its conclusion:

"So what is to be done?

"Surely the key must lie in our education system and finding a way to help state school kids level the playing field with their public school counterparts.

"But of course for today's politicians -- even those who themselves were the products of Grammars, like Peter Mandelson -- bringing back ANY sort of selection in state schools is the solution that dare not speak its name ... the old bogey of the 11-plus always rears its ugly head ...
[We then ran a clip of Mandy attacking selection and the 11+]

My commentary continued:

"All three big parties are unanimous that a return to grammar schools is NOT the answer -- and the reason why?

"They shudder at the very memory of the secondary moderns.

"And I agree. Nobody wants a return to the black and white system of the Fifties and Sixties.

"The 11-plus WAS far too brutal a watershed -- consigning those who failed to second-rate secondary moderns.

"But would it not be possible to have some selection [by ability and aptitude] in the state system -- more sophisticated, more flexible than back then -- without consigning anyone to the dustbin. Giving as much emphasis to good vocational schools as academic hothouses.

"Unless we do the highly-selective public schools will continue to rule the roost. And everything else -- from Tony Blair's Academies to Michael Gove's Free Schools -- could be just tinkering."

So there we are. A repudiation of the 11+. And a recognition that along with the grammars came the secondary moderns -- hardly an apologia for a return to the old system.

Maybe the critics never got that far in the programme (who can blame them?!). Or maybe dismissing it all as an apologia for the grammars is a cunning way of closing down any kind of debate about any kind of selection.

The politicians have already succeeded in doing that.

They shouldn't have the collusion of commentators in perpetuating that success. Otherwise our politics really does risk becoming posh -- and posher!

UPDATE: This show was only about social mobility in politics. Other BBC shows will look at other professions, including the media.

Some comments about Andrew's show are on the Dear Daily Politics page.


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