Middle-class children have better genes, says former schools chief… and we just have to accept it
Middle-class children are more likely to be clever than those from poorer families because they have ‘better genes’, former Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead said yesterday.
The comments caused an immediate storm, with critics calling them insulting and ‘crazy’.
However, Mr Woodhead won support in some quarters – including the backing of an evolutionary psychologist, who said research had shown there was a link between class and average IQ.
Ex-chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead believes middle-class children are, in general, ‘born with better genes’
Mr Woodhead called for a return to selection by ability at 11.
He suggested that grammar school pupils were more likely to be middle-class because ‘the genes are likely to be better if your parents are teachers, academics, lawyers, whatever, and the nurture is likely to be better’.
In an interview with the Guardian, he argued that Labour had betrayed a generation by refusing to accept that some children were not suited to formal secondary education.
The Government had tried to make education ‘accessible’ rather than ‘ rigorous’, he said.
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Ministers should accept that some youngsters are simply born ‘not very bright’ and allow them to pursue practical training instead of forcing them into the classroom.
‘I’ve taught, and I can still remember trying to interest children who had no interest whatsoever in English,’ he said. ‘They didn’t want to be in the classroom.
‘If I’m honest I didn’t want them to be there either – because they were disruptive to children who did want to learn.
What was the point?’
But political scientist Alan Ryan, who is the warden of New College, Oxford, criticised Mr Woodhead’s views on genes as ‘garbage’.
‘All the evidence is that initial genetic endowment is pretty much random across social classes, and everything depends on a nurturing environment,’ he said.
‘The idea that you look for some genetic underpinning to go with it seems crazy.’
The Department for Children, Schools and Families also rejected Mr Woodhead’s arguments. ‘We do not accept the inevitability of pupils’
socio-economic backgrounds shaping their attainment and their futures,’ a spokesman said.
However, there was support from Dr Bruce Charlton, an expert in evolutionary psychiatry from Newcastle University.
‘Chris Woodhead is basically correct, and there’s nothing new about it,’ he said.
Dr Charlton insisted that intelligence was ‘mostly inherited’, adding that family background and education ‘probably makes a small difference but nothing like as much as people think’.