Did the Telegraph’s James Bartholomew misread an OECD study on social mobility?

The Welfare of Nations author's source doesn't appear to match his claims


James Bartholomew is back in today’s Telegraph. You may recall the Welfare of Nations author saying poverty in Britain was not so bad because most people have electricity and indoor toilets.

His piece today, ‘Britain’s class ceiling is a myth’, makes a number of fantastic points, such as that the government should focus more on removing people’s welfare than ‘worry about barriers to entry at the top’ of society.

But his evidence is scanty. In one case, his source doesn’t appear to match his claims.

Bartholomew cites the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on educational mobility. After saying that, yes, it does help to go to a private or grammar school, he asks:

“But is Britain worse than other countries in this respect? Again the answer is ‘no’. Britain is ninth best out of 30 countries in achieving educational success for children independently of the parents’ socio-economic status according to a comprehensive OECD study in 2010.”

The web version of the story links to the OECD’s Education at a Glance report from 2010, where the information he cites does not appear to be included.

However, there is an OECD study for 2010, the Going for Growth report, which did find Britain ranked ‘ninth out of 30 countries’. But for having the ninth strongest link between socio-economic background of parents and how well a student does in secondary education.

In other words, it says Britain was not the ‘ninth best’, but the ninth worst. (Click to enlarge.)

OECD education

As the report says (p188):

“Austria, the Czech Republic, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States are among the countries where socio-economic background appears to have the largest influence on students’ performance.”

Did Mr Bartholomew misread this graph, or was he referring to another ‘ninth out of 30’ ranking?

Perhaps the Telegraph and the author can clear this up?


While we wait, take a look at the new report by the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, published yesterday and mentioned by Bartholomew, for why his argument that ‘Britain’s class ceiling is a myth’ is nonsense. The numbers tell a different story.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

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