Affluent Intakes and Comfortable Mediocrity

I was educated at a bog standard comprehensive. It wasn’t that horrific. I was picked on because I had been moved up a year (this was in the days before the data culture stopped schools from doing such a sensible thing). I chose a lesson which did not appear on my report and deliberately misbehaved in order to try to shed my ‘swot’ image. I was put on daily report card along with several other more popular boys; my strategy had been a success. Similarly, I got into one or two fights to prove I wasn’t a brainy nerd. Clever people were not popular and intellectual accomplishment was scorned.

But it wasn’t that bad. Some of the teachers were very good, keeping order and explaining concepts clearly. Others presided over chaos or put us into groups so that we could waste time gossiping about the latest school news. I do remember that I quite often helped out other members of my group, attempting to explain the things the teacher had neglected to make clear.

The school was in an affluent market town in the home counties, so it was never going to be too terrible. Also, we were streamed for many subjects, which kept the more middle class and well behaved ones away from the hell raisers.

The school bumbled along doing reasonably well, and even sending the occasional sixth former to Oxbridge. I think there were three in my year (I messed up my Cambridge interview).

Why would anyone want to campaign against such affable mediocrity? It just wasn’t that bad . . . It would be like shouting at a vague and well intentioned old gentleman because he was failing to make much sense. Just let him ramble on and nod and smile.

But we do need to attack mediocrity. It’s not good enough to have schools depending on their middle class intake to keep the inspectors at bay. There is always a significant minority in such schools who are being let down. The larger the middle class contingent, the less the school needs to worry about doing something about those who are leaving school as ignorant as the day they arrived, and with a general impression that education is for the posh, not for such as they.

A tough intake wakes you up. An affluent one allows you to sleep while large numbers of pupils follow demographic destiny.


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