Roisin McAuley has experience of the school system in England, and what she sees is an incoherent mess, rather than a system. She has three top tips, based on her experience, on the significance of schooling:
Firstly, four things are important in education. Innate intelligence, home background, peer group and school. An intelligent child, with supportive parents and motivated friends at a good school, will rise to the top in any career. A child with any three of the above will still succeed in whatever field they choose. If two of these factors are in place, the child will be fine. If only one is in place, the child will struggle. If none is in place, the unfortunate child will probably end up in prison.
Secondly, although private and selective schools dominate entry to university in England, pupils from state comprehensives leave with better degrees. (One theory is that private and grammar school pupils enter university less well equipped to study on their own because they’ve been spoon-fed.)
Thirdly, people end up pretty much where they were going to end up anyway. They might take longer to get there, but most of them get there in the end. I’ve met a lot of 11-plus ‘failures’ who provide jobs for the ones that passed.
Number two is particularly interesting. I recall Bristol University trying an experiment of lowering entry qualifications for certain working class schools and then tightening standards as the students progress through their degree courses. Though I have no idea of the outcome.