Our Private Fount of Inequality

In 2015 the David Hume Institute (DHI) published Elitist Scotland? in partnership with the Social Mobility Commission, examining the education diversity of the top decision makers in Scotland. Five years on, they increased the scope of analysis to include gender and ethnicity of people in key leadership positions. This new analysis showed:

There has been progress in some sectors but others are still lagging behind. Across the 708 individuals identified as part of this study,(a) double disadvantages unmistakable.

  • 32% of top leaders are female
  • 1% of top leaders are people of colour.
  • 0.9% of top leaders are British Asians

There is undoubtedly a civic challenge in these figures. Clearly, women comprise around half the population. largest BAME minority group in Scotland is British Asian, who

2.7% of the population and Black/Caribbean at 0.9%. From these figures alone, the disparity in gender/racial mix among Scotland’s top leaders seems clear.

However, in the present climate of political uber-correctness, there may be some danger of the equality baby being thrown out with the orthodoxy bathwater. History relates a number of attempts to rectify disparities with the best of intentions. Forty years ago, the state of California introduced Spanish-language high schools into predominately latino neighbourhoods. Although latino pupils did well at school, they found it doubly difficult to find jobs and further education in a society that spoke English.

It is true that, a century on from universal suffrage and half a century on from racial diversification, letting nature take its course has failed to produce a representative balance among Scotland’s leaders. But, rather than a Pavlovian jumping on the BAME/feminist bandwagon, it may be better to dig deeper to identify institutional causes, against which enlightened attitudes have yet failed to make much progress. For fairness, of 708 leaders should include 113 more women and 18 more people of colour (perhaps overlapping) to achieve the balance desired. If similar-sized countries as far apart as New Zealand and Norway can do it, why can’t Scotland?

The answer may lie on the DHI’s original 2015 study, focusing solely on education. While, in their 2020 study, the educational disparity is more severe than either the gender and racial parameters on which they place such emphasis. Consider Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Percentage of Leaders with Private Education by Segment

According to the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS),  in 2016, some 29.647 pupils attended private schools, meaning 4.1%t of children in Scotland attend one of its 102 private schools (73 are members of the SCIS. Pupil numbers have been declining as fees have risen by more than 23%, with the average annual cost climbing from £11,410 to £14,127.

Is there a reason why families shell out 2/3rds of a median wage when council-run schools are generally good and totally free? Well, yes. The data in Figure 1 shows why. Even Council Chief Executives pull down a salary of over £100,000, with job security and a 50% pension. Investment in six years of private high school is repaid within a year.

The smooth passage of private school alumni to leadership roles is eased by the fact that they represent 26% of the student body at Scotland’s four ancient universities of in 2014/15, with 71% in total receiving an offer of admission at one of the four, compared to only 29% of state-school entrants. Becoming a leader without a degree is becoming progressively unlikely. Scottish private schools are perceived by many to be heavily influenced by the culture, practices and ethos of English independent, or “public”, schools. The perceived English influence in many of these schools was such that in 1887 one author referred to them as “English schools.

The comparison with Eton, Harrow, Winchester, etc. bears out. The number of leaders in England who attended public (i.e. private) school there is compares well with Figure 1, with the Eton + Christchurch Oxford route proving particularly successful for those heading into politics or the Civil Service. The distribution of private schools in the UK is shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2: UK Distribution of Private Schools

The disparities n Scotland mirror those prevalent in England for centuries. It is therefore hardly surprising that the private school remains instrumental in shaping the leaders of tomorrow. Given that attendance of BAME and female pupils at Scotland’s private schools would appear to be far more relevant than racial or gender bias in the organisations themselves.

To combat the appearance of being unattainably elitist, an average 24.5% of private school pupils receive some financial help and 3.1% are fully funded. Given that, of the 102 private schools across Scotland (only 73 in the SCIS), 3 are for girls and 17 are co-ed. This implies under 15% of places are available for girls. This makes the 32% of Scottish leaders who are female a magnificent achievement, given this starting disadvantage. There are few stats on racial mix in private schools. Our minorities are not well represented among the wealthy, implies under 3.9% of private pupils are BAME.

The Scottish establishment remains just as adept at maintaining its own as that in England, and this is done, as in England, by a system of advancement grounded in private schooling. As long as this prevails, the old Scottish tradition of hard work and lad o’ pairts advancement will remain a cultural myth and advancement will be held in thrall to a venerable English system of appointing nomenklatura that has also existed in Scotland since the Union. To see what happens when wealth is the key in educational success, you need only look at the USA and its gross inequality in life opportunities.

Perhaps it is time for Scotland to remove this risible ‘charity’ status for private schools. They would still function, but without taxpayers subsidising their elitist access to power.  Advancement toward the egalitarian balance the DHI paper seeks requires a more level educational playing field, so all our children might achieve their leadership potential—as already happens in New Zealand and Norway.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
This entry was posted in Community, Education. Bookmark the permalink.

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