Selective education and social mobility

Girl reads Spanish dictionary

Those educated at comprehensive schools go on to fewer of the top jobs than their privately educated counterparts, says Chris Dunne. Photograph: redsnapper/Alamy

Tony Pitman’s preference for the German selective over the Finnish comprehensive model (Letters, 1 July) is based on flimsy reasoning and scant empirical evidence. The reason the Finnish model is so attractive is that it has plainly worked, as every new OECD study of global education systems shows. Incidentally, the same studies show that selective systems of the kind he favours are far less effective in terms of resultant economic productivity than inclusive ones.

There is also no evidence that having more grammar schools would diminish the big attractions of the private sector, which are its exclusivity and social networking opportunities. Students from comprehensives outperform those from both grammar and private schools at university degree level, but go on to fewer of the top jobs than their privately educated counterparts.

In the UK, who your parents are and where you went to school are still the main determinants of social mobility. Either we do something radical to change this, or we accept it and shut up about believing in mobility. Talking about bringing back grammar schools is an irrelevant distraction.
Chris Dunne

 Mr Pitman is mistaken in his assertion that private schools have “absorbed the demand that grammar schools used to fulfil”. In 1966, 7.1% of UK children were being privately educated, compared with the current 7%. If foreign children are excluded, the current figure drops to 6.5%, suggesting that demand for private schooling was, if anything, higher during the heyday of the postwar selective system.