The state of our meritocratic society

Source: Creativity103 (via Flickr)

by Tomos Lloyd

Amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the 2016 Brexit Referendum, Theresa May brought forth her vision for the future of Britain and its education system. She stated that she wants “Britain to be the world’s great meritocracy.” The idea that any individual, regardless of their background, with enough effort, can make their way up the social ladder and live the life they wish. 

This idea is reductive and ignores countless external material factors which are glaringly present in our modern society. 

Of course, such attitudes towards everyday life are not uncommon amongst the Conservative Party. In September 2017, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told LBC radio that the recent rise in food bank usage was “rather uplifting” as it was a sign that “people know that they are there”, and not that poverty is on the rise. 

This false conclusion is not only painfully ignorant, but it is also a sign that the government is not willing to accept that change is needed. Meritocracy does not function in a society where inequality exists in every corner of the nation.

Despite this, some reformation to the education system has come into effect. 

The 2010 to 2015 government policy for qualifications and curriculum reform provided some promising outlooks for the future of our education system, with amendments made to GCSEs, AS and A-levels to ensure a stronger educational foundation, as well as encouraging more 16-18 year-olds to study mathematics and science.

These changes, whilst seemingly promising, have not truly created a great impact in terms of meritocracy and social mobility. 

“disability, discrimination, stereotyping, and labelling, all contribute to the failure of a meritocratic Britain”

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that during the 2013/2014 academic year, pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) were less likely to achieve at least 5 A* to C GCSEs, compared to all other pupils. Regarding ethnicity, there is a massive disparity between the highest attainers and the lowest, with a huge percentage of Chinese students achieving 5 or more A* to C GCSEs including English and mathematics, compared to less than half of Black-Caribbean students. 

The disparity continues into the workplace. A 2015 study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that White British individuals make up a larger portion of the highest-paid jobs compared to minority ethnicities.

What are the factors in play? 

In 2018, the ONS found that Pakistani and Bangladeshi people were over 3 times more likely than White British people to live in the most income-deprived neighbourhoods. 

Poverty and material deprivation are major obstacles confronting educational attainment. The deprivation cycle is evidently a cause for concern, yet for over a decade the minor variations in data have meant the inequality trends remain true.

These few examples are not even the full picture, as disability, discrimination, stereotyping, and labelling all contribute to the failure of a meritocratic Britain. 

Implementations like FSM have provided some improvement amongst the most deprived communities, but further attention is needed regarding the failure of our welfare state, as well as the rise of racism and classism in Britain. Expansion of the middle-class is a necessity if we are to progress further.

Perhaps a better definition would be David Cameron’s claim of a broken Britain. Broken, not by the fault of the working-class, but by the complete failure at the highest level of government to implement necessary change; to tackle austerity and to provide aid to those that need it most.

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