The Last Word: Snow on the glass ceiling

Jon Snow knows something about privilege, GSCE results, foreign student falsehoods and justice for Grenfell – Progress director Richard Angell has this week’s Last Word

Jon Snow used his James MacTaggart Memorial lecture to explored the necessary – and urgent – steps broadcasters and others need to undertake to give Britain a representative media. 

The Grenfell Tower disaster really bought this home for the Channel 4 news host. Having visited the site and been the focus of some of the deep frustration on the ground, he reflects:

‘In that moment I felt both disconnected and frustrated. I felt on the wrong side of the terrible divide that exists in present-day society and in which we are all in this hall major players. We can accuse the political classes for their failures, and we do. But we are guilty of them ourselves.’

He quotes the Sutton Trust and their longstanding work on the dominance of the privately educated in the media and across journalism. The idea this does not distort our media, cut normal people out and often mean those trying to push for measures to tackle inequality or stalling social mobility are met with derision, is for the birds. Snow is right to highlight this, in doing so he does not absolve himself of being part of the problem but someone keen to be part of the solution. ‘History is written by the victors’ is a truism – but it applies as much to journalism as it does all else. It is no surprise that we have the media we have when our news is written, conducted by and curated for the winners in our system. 

Politics has long known it is out of touch, and while some people slow its pace of change, few are publicly against measures to correct this. Other professions, such as the legal profession, are attempting ways to change their composition. The media – with their ‘expenses if you are lucky’ internships, ‘who, not what you know’ access points and hundreds who can self-fund fawning over every opportunity – noticeable lags behind. Media organisations of all size must do more. A number of organisations are recognising their well-connected partners and employees are not going to not push their children, nieces and nephew, godchildren or the like, so have systems to provide opportunities for other. For example, for every employee pushed work experience or internship there is another place created for someone recruited through the Social Mobility Foundation or likeminded group. Great organisations like Debate Mate – founded by one of most wonderful women you will ever meet, Margaret McCabe – try to break this vice-like grip private schools hold on the best opportunities. 

Channel Four has tried to be ahead on the issue of diversity; Oona King pioneered some brilliant work while at the broadcaster. Snow shines a spotlight on this issue, but his actions matter more than his words. 

GCSE results

Congratulations to everyone who got the grades they wanted – or better – in their GCSEs this week. For those that did not, do not lose hope. There are plenty of opportunities out there. Find out what you are passionate about in life and pursuit it. 

This year saw Michael Gove’s reforms in practice: new one to nine grades for maths and English. This huge confusion to parents and employers is all done to tackle the perception of ‘grade inflation’. Surely we should not judge people and whole career on one-chance exams at such a formative age. As an employer I do not want to know that a potential staff member can perform on a given day – I already test that in an interview – but that they can learn, apply their learning, work with others and innovate. Reducing coursework, limiting resits and focusing on exams seems the wrong direction of travel when we are preparing students for multiple careers. 

Foreign student falsehoods

May’s refusal to acknowledge the huge contribution made by international students and the revelation that the government has been trading on, as Neil Coyle said on Newsnight, ‘utter falsehoods’ that over large numbers of students ‘overstay’. This leaves the prime minister isolated even among the Tories. The business community, universities and Labour have long been making sensible points and tried to remove students from the migration figures. In the smallest of gestures home secretary Amber Rudd has commissioned a review. As Britain hurtles toward the Brexit door, retaining the good will of those who want to study here might be the lucky hand this country needs.

Justice for the Grenfell families

Today’s Thought for the Day on Radio Four’s Today programme was treasurer of Vauxhall constituency Labour party and chair of the Faiths Forum Jasvir Singh. Today’s piece on the 150 year anniversary of the Shipping Forecast, the beauty of verse, and how complex concepts can often be condensed into a deceptively simple set of words is well worth listening to. It, however, reminded me of this previous outing on the same slot. The days after the Grenfell tragedy he spoke eloquently – and captured the nation’s mood well – about the human response to this particular disaster. Listening to it again reminded me how much there is to do to get justice for these west London families.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell

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