Education is reinforcing social inequality by stacking the odds against children from poorer families, according to a leading academic.
Danny Dorling, professor of geography at the University of Oxford, said the ability of a wealthy minority to “buy” good results and access to the best universities was creating a “ruinous momentum” towards an increasingly unbalanced society.
Writing in today’s Times Higher Education, Professor Dorling argued that an education system where exams were seen as the be-all and end-all perpetuated the inbuilt advantages of the better-off.
He said figures showed that half of all A and A* grades at A-level were awarded to the 7 per cent of pupils who were privately educated, and that four and a half times as much was spent on privately educated students as on those taught in the state system.
“Good results can be bought through private education or by buying housing near to 'good' schools – so the cycle of rising domination by the richest continues, generation on generation,” he said.
As a result, he added, “the number of youngsters from the poorest backgrounds found in the most elite universities…is similar to the number of people who win large sums of money on national lotteries – extremely low.”
Professor Dorling, whose latest book Inequality and the 1% is published this month, said that education might be taking its lead from growing economic inequality, which has left 1 per cent of the UK population taking 15 per cent of all pre-tax income. "Schools and universities could be seen to be adapting to, and reinforcing, that reality,” he said.
One consequence, Professor Dorling said, was that roughly two-fifths of students left school with “what are labelled poor qualifications”.
He added: “What is all too easily forgotten, however, is how many children do not have access to even minor advantages and do not achieve anything but paltry examination success. The odds are stacked against them, and our education system is designed to polarise.”