Education, Entitlement and Expectations

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Levelling The Playing Field


Bottom Line: It’s Not Fair, Is It?

“Souls, after all, are equal in the sight of God and thus deserving of what these days is called a level playing field. ”

~ Playwright Alan Bennett in his sermon on private education at Kings College Chapel, Cambridge on 1st June. (

It goes without saying that the players in any sport do not enter the field with equal physical attributes, agility, skill, motivation, intelligence etc. What is strived for in fair competition is that the conditions under which they perform are made as equal as possible.


“It is remarkable how many positions of wealth, influence, celebrity and power in our society are held by individuals who were privately educated,” said the Education secretary, Michael Gove, in May last year. Remarkable indeed, when only 7% of students are privately educated, and a recent study shows that state school pupils do better at university than independent school candidates who have achieved the same A-level grades.

How willing would a Government be, or its supporters, too many of which have been the beneficiaries of private education, to begin to dismantle its foundations?  At least the Finnish Government had the courage to reform its failing system forty years ago, creating one of the most successful educational systems in the world today. Finland strives to make the playing field as level as it can, in its 100% funding of schools and its investment in the best teaching provision for all, with students of mixed-ability being taught together and no option for buying privileged schooling for ones children, which breeds a sense of entitlement through wealth and fosters social inequalities, as in Britain.


Why are  ‘poor’  white children in our society falling behind the rest?  The reasons are complex, involving attitudes, values and expectations, as well as teaching provision. Expectations are a key influence in attainment; it follows therefore that more needs to be learned about the expectations of these ‘under-achievers’, their parents and their teachers. Provincial attitudes, presumptions and prejudices need to be challenged. Blame culture is not helpful; dismissing low achievement in white working-class children as the result of poverty or poor parenting is too simplistic and a convenient way for schools to ‘pass the buck’. What needs to be unpicked are the reasons why fewer ‘poorer’ white students stay in education after 16, or aspire to go to university than all other groups.


Learning is not linear, yet our schools are forced to keep measuring achievement  in a linear way, which is also not the Finnish approach. How worthwhile is it to measure us all against the same set of criteria?

The picture below sums up the ‘all inside the box’/ ‘one size fits all’/ ‘cookie-cutter kids’ approach to education, for me. Enough said! Excuse me while I step off my soap box( before I start on Role-Models!).



2 thoughts on “Education, Entitlement and Expectations

  1. Excellent and thoughtful post as ever. Like the cartoon at the end. Reminds me of the story of the Animal School (first read it in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books – if you’ve not read them, well worth it). Google: “Chicken Soup for the Soul Animal School” to find an online version of the story. It will resonate.

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