An NHS for education may remedy UK ills

October 9, 2014

Danny Dorling presents a worrying portrait of growing economic inequality in the UK and argues that “schools and universities could be seen to be adapting to, and reinforcing”, this situation (“Division grows as inequality multiplies”, Features, 25 September). The inequality in educational opportunity that he documents is clearly incompatible with national competitiveness in the global knowledge economy of the 21st century.

Dorling proposes no solutions to these problems. As he acknowledges, universities are working hard to widen access for disadvantaged students, although they have limited scope to remedy deficiencies in schools, in which children must still either “sink or swim”. Successive governments have tried in various ways to reduce these deficiencies, most recently by encouraging the formation of academies and free schools. However, if Dorling is correct, all these attempts have failed to “level up” the performance of pupils in state schools compared with that of their counterparts in private schools.

It is therefore time to “think outside the box”, recognise that further reforms to schools alone will have diminishing returns, and pay greater attention to the needs of the individual child.

One possible strategy to challenge the hegemony of Dorling’s wealthiest “1 per cent” might be to use the National Health Service as a model. In a new National Education Service the mass provision of education in schools could be supplemented by separate local education centres, which would annually monitor the educational development of individual children and would provide remedial tutoring to enhance this development. A child’s local tutor would be able to recommend that he or she attend any school in the country whose teaching specialities and standards match the needs of that child, just as general practitioners in the NHS can refer their patients to a particular hospital. Economic and postcode disadvantages would therefore no longer be barriers to a good education, and our education system would be less able to reinforce economic inequality.

In switching from schools to local education centres, the use of national tests to monitor pupils would no longer contribute to the “exam obsession” about which Dorling complains, as tests would be linked to remedial action. Remedial tutoring would cost more money, but a recent report by the Sutton Trust stated that one in four pupils may already be receiving private tuition, and the state has a history of substituting for services for which parents have previously paid, eg, nursery education.

If the new “NES” succeeded, any increase in costs would be more than outweighed by the resulting economic and societal benefits.

Alan Grainger
School of Geography
University of Leeds


It is a pity that Mary Evans, reviewing Danny Dorling’s book Inequality and the 1% (“To have and to have not”, 25 September), reinforces the hardening view that parents privately educating their children are merely buying into superior exam results.

The fact is simply that private schools are better able to cater for the talents of their intelligent pupils than comprehensive schools are, as is indicated by the marked disparity in exam results.

I have found in many cases of private tutoring that youngsters’ intelligence is barely catered for in comprehensives. The broad fact, unpalatable to some, is that state education has shot itself in the foot by embracing a fundamentally unworkable all-in system. It is just as well that such inequalities exist, because they instance what can be achieved at best.

A really egalitarian society (although its proponents never indicate how far they wish to go) would be undesirable as it would lead to the removal of incentives to betterment and the upholding of standards through comparisons. Dorling and others who assure us that equality is advantageous do not appear to have thought through their proposals.

Nigel Probert

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