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New Left Review I/28, November-December 1964

Juliet Mitchell

Women’s Education

The tripartite system of secondary education, inaugurated in 1944, has been partially eroded throughout the fifties and early sixties. ‘Parity of esteem’ notoriously proved a synonym for ‘some are more equal than others.’ The comprehensive schools, the Leicestershire, Croydon, West Riding and Stoke experiments and proposals were explicit condemnations of the system. One by one, less outspoken lea’s have dropped the 11 plus and substituted interviews or Heads’ reports. A pep statement on secondary moderns in 1956 had run: ‘there is the biggest category of average pupils with no discernible special bent who are most likely to be employed in repetitious jobs requiring little special skill’. The work of Jackson, Marsden, Floud, Halsey, Bernstein and others brought into the open the assumption behind the system and comments like this. The ‘average pupils’ of the secondary modern are most frequently working-class children. Government Reports phased out these comments in the late fifties, instead alluding to the prospect of automation and the need to educate everyone for leisure. But leisure is largely conceived as a classless limbo, a comfortable basking in private, domestic security. This sort of leisure, like industrial work, has both its producers and its users. The class content of our educational system has now been fairly effectively exposed.

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Juliet Mitchell, ‘Women’s Education’, NLR I/28: £3

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