Class prejudices the real reason for London’s segregated schools
Last week’s reports that the ethnic composition of London’s state secondary’s have swelled to 60% in some boroughs, contained the usual xenophobic undertones of floodgates being opened spiel our tabloid press routinely peddles. Ethnics make up around 40% of the capital and yet in inner London take up over 60% of state secondary school places. This is in part because recent immigrants are more likely to be of childbearing age. Most reports would have us believe that poor Oliver and Arabella’s places have been hijacked by their swarthy skinned compatriots rather than because of white flight.
Unsurprisingly none of the reports mentioned the bleeding obvious- that just before secondary school most white and middle class Londoners escape the city into the burbs and shires- or if they can afford to, opt for private.
The issues here are myriad and complex, but largely about class and choice. What we are seeing in London’s state secondary schools are the consequences of an education system afflicted by free market forces.
Choice; that ever ted argument favours the few and creates imbalance, creaming off the best and discarding the rest. Choice thrives on the gap between perception and reality, a gap that is riddled by our own deep-seated prejudices and snobberies. Often our perceptions do not accurately connect with reality and on closer inspection and (crucially) introspection is based on stereotypes and lazy tropes. Perception can be incredibly damaging, ghettoizing and damning schools into self-fulfilled prophecies.
David Levin, the South African head of top independent school City of London, uses London schools sleep walking into apartheid as his motivation for offering a bursary scheme to bright but poor minority children. The need for such a scheme only serves to highlight a prevailing bourgeoisie belief that a good education and its (supposed) resulting social mobility are almost impossible in the London state sector. The purchase of their children’s education may bare fruits- this year privately educated students (who make up 7% of total student population) walked away with 53% of A and A* grades at A level, but at what societal cost- more August riots?
That’s the problem with perception.
The scheme does nothing to close the gap between our two tiered education system- the real problem, but rather serves to exacerbate it because race and class are sometimes but not always mutually exclusive. London secondary’s colour issue is symptomatic of a wider and more insidious class issue. This bursary underscores that.
The sad truth is, London our great city is no melting pot, but a salad bowl of contrasting and conflicting peoples; an endless cycle of movement, migration and gentrification; each displacing the other. This is evident everywhere from the fauxhemian hipster hangouts of Shoreditch and Hoxton, to the Bengali communities down the road, the Caribbean’s, Vietnamese and Turks in Dalston and Mare Street, the West Africans in Seven Sisters and their affluent yummy mummy neighbours in Crouch end- all side by side, sharing a space but never really sharing in the place.
We the selfish children of Thatcher our schools are but a microcosm of the society we live in, and have wilfully created.
Written by Frances E. Abebreseh