Inequality from private schools ‘morally indefensible’ says Gove

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PRIVATE school pupils are still dominating positions of wealth and power in England’s “profoundly unequal society”, Education Secretary Michael Gove has warned.

Speaking to private school headmasters at a conference yesterday, he said the country’s social segregation, which meant poor children were likely to stay poor while the rich remain rich, was “morally indefensible”.

He said: “It is remarkable how many positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in our society are held by individuals who were privately educated.”

The majority of cabinet Ministers and many of the shadow cabinet attended fee-paying schools, Mr Gove added.

Private schools are also “handsomely represented” in the legal, medical profession, in universities, the media and businesses.

Mr Gove said he was not criticising private schools or individuals who have attended them.

But he added: “The sheer scale, the breadth and the depth, of private school dominance of our society points to a deep problem in our country – one we all acknowledge but have still failed to tackle with anything like the radicalism required. We live in a profoundly unequal society.

“More than almost any developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress.

“Those who are born poor are more likely to stay poor and those who inherit privilege are more likely to pass on privilege in England than in any comparable country.

“For those of us who believe in social justice, this stratification and segregation are morally indefensible.

“And for those of us who want to see greater economic efficiency, it is a pointless squandering of our greatest asset – our children – to have so many from poorer backgrounds manifestly not achieving their potential.”

The conference at Brighton College also heard a speech from Ofsted’s controversial chief inspector who launched a stinging attack on heads and teachers who make excuses for failure and complain about their jobs.

Sir Michael Wilshaw’s comments come days after the National Association of Head Teachers’ annual conference in Harrogate passed an emergency motion saying they were said they were “saddened and dismayed” by his approach. The head’s union accused him of “using bully-boy tactics”.

The union has also hit out at the plans for no-notice Ofsted inspections. However Sir Michael hit back yesterday saying he would press ahead with his plans to raise school standards.

He told the conference that in the past, head teachers who were not prepared to tackle poor teaching were not challenged.

“What we don’t need are leaders in our schools whose first recourse is to blame someone else – whether it’s Ofsted, the local education authority, the government or a whole host of other people,” he said.

Sir Michael told the conference that the bar on school standards must be raised.

“We must hold our nerve, I am determined to do so as chief inspector, and not panic at the first whiff of grapeshot, some of which has whistled past my ears over the last few days.”

The conference was taking place yesterday as a new report by the cross party Public Accounts Committee has called on the Department for Education to demonstrate how it will ensure value for money from its £56bn funding for schools and local authorities.

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