THE BLOG

Forget the 'Old Boys' Network'; Play the Ball, Not the Man

14/05/2013 13:54 BST | Updated 13/07/2013 10:12 BST

Media commentators and opposition politicians have been up in arms recently at David Cameron "filling Downing Street with public schoolboy advisors". Many have cited an "old boys' network" that helps independent school alumni to flourish at the expense of those educated within the state sector. It may provide ready-made commentary when looking at the Prime Minister's inner circle, but it's an all too easy excuse for the wider issue of why non-public school students have failed to meet their ambitions.

Such commentary is most often cited as a barrier to progress by those within education circles. Many teachers and governors point to the 'old boys' network' as the reason why state educated children are being held back. The irony is this excuse represents the very barrier to success against which they rail. For too long those running state education, or commentating on it, have vocally complained yet failed to fundamentally change how they have fought back.

It has become a rallying call of those seeking social justice to castigate a rich, well-educated set of public schoolboys that is undoubtedly greatly over-represented in politics, the judiciary, banking and FTSE 100 boardrooms. Yet such attacks have steadfastly failed to change anything. Critics have spent so long playing the man instead of the ball that the gap between independent and state schools has actually increased.

Each year we hear of how independent school pupils are storming ahead: six times more likely to obtain A* grades in GCSEs than their state school peers; and four times more likely at A-level. Even during the country's coming together last summer for the Olympics, that gap was stark - more than 50 per cent of Team GB medallists attended independent schools.

It's time for a proper fight back that involves action, not rhetoric. That means learning best practice from the independent sector instead of attacking it. We need to challenge the approach of state schools, at both a primary and secondary level.

The media and educational establishment are quick to mock Education Secretary Michael Gove, and the likes of former Schools Minister Nick Gibb, for their talk of a traditionalist approach to education, which is much practiced at independent schools. Yet such an approach, that focuses on children learning their times tables and reading literature, clearly works.

They say the first sign of madness is making the same mistake repeatedly and not learning from it. The system and its critics have to date failed a generation of children by focusing on outcomes and not causes. If we want our children to compete with those educated within the independent sector, we must fight the urge to make political points. We must play the ball, not the man.