This blog has sprung out of a fascinating conversation which I enjoyed on Facebook a few days ago. Danuta Kean was considering the lack of opportunities for working class, especially coloured working class actors on our stage. A director she interviewed had said. ‘The privileged pay lip service to diversity but keep everything at base level so everything remains intact.’ It provoked a lively exchange and many very sensible things were said. Amanda Craig pointed out that ‘It’s no use being sentimental or cynical about the problem. The only duty is to see the truth about each individual as circumstances allow.’ It made me remember this picture, two sets of children of a similar age but with entirely different outlook and prospects. The Eaton boys who naturally expect to go on to Oxbridge and then into Government, the working class boys who expect very little.
The truth is that as we are all formed by our upbringing and education that we receive and consequently the way we behave and the opinions we hold have very deep, social roots. Education has always been a means of social control. When I was young a very small proportion of state educated children got to grammar school via the 11+, in London it was 20%, in South Wales 25%, in West Sussex only 11%. The children who failed the 11+ had lost their chance in life and knew it. At the end of the World War 2 our new government was determined to alter this and brought in comprehensive schools believing that all children should be given the chance to develop as many talents and skills as they could and that none should be thrown on the scrap heap at 11. There were many who fought the idea tooth and nail, but many more – like me – who backed it and did everything we could to bring it about and make it a success. Now sadly the clock is being put back.
Education is now largely about taking examinations. There is very little time for the children to learn through the joys of play, like these little ones below.
Many of our children get to university, achieve a degree and then find that there is no work suitable for them. Many end up stacking shelves in Tesco’s or serving in other shops, the increase in graduates has not been planned for or thought through.
And in the meantime, the rich have become steadily more and more obscenely wealthy and more and more determined to preserve the status quo which serves them so well. Sir Philip Green who inherited his family business at the age of 12, has just thrown 11,000 of his workers out of work and left British Home Stores with a pension deficit of £571 million, nevertheless collecting £586 million in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans for himself. Social extremes couldn’t be more clearly indicated then by facts like these.