Prizes for All: Why Mehdi Hasan Is Wrong About Banning Private Schools

09/09/2012 23:13 BST | Updated 09/11/2012 10:12 GMT

Should Olympic champion Usain Bolt share his gold medal with his 100 metre competitors? Should a CEO be paid the same as a trainee? Should all competitions be banned?

It is unlikely that most people would say yes to the above questions, but there are a group of people who do just that. They are called 'cultural Marxists'.

Cultural Marxists are driven by egalitarianism, an ideology that decries we must all be equal. On the face of it egalitarianism seems like a good idea. Isn't it unfair that some people are born richer than others? And isn't it annoying that our boss takes home more money even though we work just as hard? The problem is that egalitarianism is at odds with meritocracy, the ideology that argues individuals should be awarded on their merits.

The world is a meritocratic place. If you are a talented sportsman, you are decorated for your victories. If you are a gifted academic, you are recognised for your intelligence. You do not, in other words, get recognition for being mediocre.

Mehdi Hasan, however, would have you believe otherwise. Mr Hasan believes that private schools, institutions where mediocrity is not accepted, should be banned. He bemoans that private schools are 'a blight on our society' and that they are 'divisive and corrosive'.

I agree with Mr Hasan's main point: there is a two-tier system in our educational system. Comprehensive schools, on the whole, are nowhere near as good as private schools. We disagree, however, on our solution to this problem.

Private schools should not be abolished, instead the state school system should be improved. Why destroy one of the educational institutions that actually works? For the sake of levelling everybody down?

The comprehensive project has failed. Even the good comprehensives, where students are able to attain the top grades, are inaccessible to working-class children because of extortionate house prises in the schools' catchment areas. Great Britain, as Mr Hasan acknowledges, has been engulfed by an educational apartheid.

The tripartite education system, introduced at the end of the Second World War, meant that prospective students would have to sit an 11-plus examination which determined where they went to school - a local grammar or secondary-modern.

Grammar schools, introduced at the end of the Second World War, gave youngsters from humble beginnings the opportunity to elevate themselves up through the social classes. Secondary moderns, though, were dubbed 'educational scrapheaps'.

Today grammar schools, seemingly too politically sensitive to touch, are banned. But why blame grammar schools for the shortcomings of secondary moderns? Grammar schools, after all, provided a rigorous academic curriculum and armed students with an education that could rival private school pupils.

The objection against grammar schools, that is wrong to segregate pupils at such an early age, is easily remedied. Introduce a reformed, modern 11-plus examination and select students at more than one point in a child's educational career.

Now, as England sits ashamedly near the bottom of the OECD education league table, we should recognise grammar schools as a solution.