IQ and class acts

July 25, 2013

In his opinion article “Here’s to class act that challenged tyranny of class in admissions” (11 July), Paul Temple stated: “Only an unusual genetic theory could link natural ability to your dad’s job”, and this quote was repeated in that issue’s leading article.

Surely, no one can deny that clever (and hence successful) parents tend to have clever children? It has been known for at least a century that there is a moderate genetic component to intelligence, so it would be extraordinary if parents with cognitively complex jobs did not have brighter children than those working in less intellectually demanding jobs. The relation between social class and child IQ was clearly shown in post-war Warsaw.

For some curious reason, many find such an explanation threatening and prefer to believe that IQ is determined by the environment. But not only does any plausible environmental theory also predict that clever parents will have clever children, it follows that this association will be still stronger, since unlike the genetic theory, it cannot explain why clever parents sometimes produce dull children.

Failure to grasp that middle-class children have somewhat higher basic ability than working-class ones has had a devastating effect on our education system. The much better exam results of children in public schools has been taken as evidence by both the Left and the Right that public schools provide a superior education, when in fact most, if not all, of this effect is because they start off with a higher IQ intake. Middle-class parents have effectively sabotaged the state education system by sending its higher IQ population to private education.

Tony Gordon


In his response to my article, Frederic Stansfield (Letters, 18 July) sets the bar very high for judging the Robbins report by observing that the UK has become a more unequal society in the half-century since the report appeared.

There are a number of reasons why this is so, but including widened participation in higher education among them seems very odd. Stansfield’s view of graduate employment is also odd, as the “graduate premium” has been substantial throughout the period of higher education expansion and largely remains so.

It would be to adopt Communist bloc-style manpower planning to try to determine “economic need” and to provide the supposedly correct number of university places to meet this need. Robbins briskly dismissed this approach as “impracticable” and, as with so many other things, got it right.

Paul Temple
Co-director, Centre for Higher Education Studies
Faculty of Policy and Society
Institute of Education, University of London

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