Bring back the super grammars: Farage’s strange lament for upper middle class social reproduction

There is a fascinating and bizarre little clip on the telegraph website in which Farage talks about going to Dulwich College in the 1970s when it was affordable for the middle class and open to non-fee payers through assisted places:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/nigel-farage/11470262/Nigel-Farage-autobiography-Private-school-is-only-for-the-super-rich-now.html

I am extremely doubtful that the assisted places scheme had a net positive impact on “social mobility”, in the same way that I am dubious about Sutton Trust sponsored schemes to open up elite private schools. A left response to gross class inequalities cannot be built on individual aspirations and myths of equal opportunity and social mobility. Ultimately these ideas are dangerous and regressive and need to be challenged (not supported!) by academics and the party and non-party political left. Nevertheless, where Farage’s commentary rings true is in his commentary on the relative difference in the “rich kids” at school who once had cottages in Devon and Cornwall and now have houses in the Caribbean. There has been a massive upward shift in the wealth of the wealthiest within the UK as a whole and within its elite private schools.

The political argument Farage’s lament for the golden days of upper middle class is utter rubbish – the mass benefits of democratizing access to schooling has only ever come through much broader, non-selective educational change. Sociologically there is a kernel of truth in the shifting patterns of what it means to be part of the (really) wealthy and how that affects the school system. Trying to persuade people that we should go back to the days when it was more affordable for stockbrokers (Farage’s dad was a stockbroker) to send their kids to an elite private school is completely mad. What is worse is the broader support for the idea of opening up private schools through assisted places or through academization. This is simply a means of propping up forms of elitist, selective education which have no place in a progressive (let alone radical) left vision for the education system. One reason for optimism is that there was a broad political consensus opposing selection at 11 because so many middle class children were missing out. This ambiguous support for comprehensives was deeply problematic in its own right, but this kind of coalition may need to be built again to fight against a return to Assisted Places and Farage’s golden era of 1970s upper middle class social reproduction.

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