Saturday, 13 December 2014

A new inequality - and the gap is widening

Today is the centenary of Alan Bullock. Born in Wiltshire, but educated in Yorkshire, he was an influential historian who also founded St Catherine's College Oxford. He initially made his name with a biography of Hitler which the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sniffily suggests was superseded by others' research. However, he was ready to take this on board and towards the end of his career produced a mighty parallel biography of Stalin and Hitler.

The ODNB notification landed in my in-box as I was catching up on the Thinking Allowed episode ( in which Peter Hennessy and Danny Dorling discussed the means to break into the Establishment first by the Butler 1944 Education Act (Hennessy reckoned that he was part of a golden generation) and the comprehensive revolution in England and Wales (Dorling confessed that he would not have passed the 11-plus). Before those changes, there was the opportunity offered to working-class young men and women by the great mixing of the second world war mobilisation, which was taken by Bullock and others of his generation. (On a personal note, if the son of a ship's steward from Merseyside and the daughter of a master at a venerable private school in south Wales had not both joined up and met in an army camp in Kent in wartime, I would not be here now.)

Both Dorling and Hennessy felt that, barring another war, such chances of climbing the ladder into the elite were steadily being eroded. I would add that bringing back the grammar schools (and secondary modern and technical schools for the rejects) would not recreate the conditions of 1945. The big advance was not the opening up of the grammar schools, but providing free secondary education.

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