Thursday, April 23, 2015

The lottery of education in Britain

The Education system in the United Kingdom is the most diverse and divisive in the free world. It almost defies belief the extent to which the haves can assure that their children go to good schools and the have-nots have to take pot luck. The richest haves can buy privilege at independent schools many of which are truly outstanding and all of which are very good. The next tier down in the haves heirarchy comprises the comfortably off with a decent family income who can convert a proportion of that income into the purchase of a family home in an area with good State schools. There is a precise correlation between income demographics and school performance. For most of the rest parents are subject to the serendipity of school standards which vary from the good to the appalling. 

I would never argue for levelling down. I support independent schools, academies, free schools ... indeed any school which educates our children well. But let us not delude ourselves that the existence of these good schools means that we have a good general system of education in Britain. We will only do that if we have education for all that gives genuine equality of opportunity. That is my objection to Labour's Academies and the Conservative's Free Schools. They both ( and they are very similar) took the eye of successive Education ministers off the ball of their primary task, which is to raise education standards across the board. 

Our education system needs a radical review. Boasting of the success of a Free School is one thing (and not all have been successful) but that is window dressing. This Government has added to the diversity of our system and frankly done little to raise overall standards. Many of the Free Scools are religious institutions adding to the already grotesque fact that all too many schools are religion-based and indoctrinate as well as teach. 

I want an education system that is fair. That has choice within it, but where choice is not a shibboleth to be pursued at the cost of ignoring the general but improving the particular. As with the Health Service education is a Public/Private partnership and you don't improve the quality of public provision by removing or inhibiting the private sector or by closing other good schools . But it is simply unacceptable in a civilised State (and a wealthy one) that the postcode determines the quality of our schools and that the average standard is so far behind the best. If Labour believes that it can raise the average standard by concentrating efforts on ways and means other than the establishment of more elitist schools for the lucky that's fine by me.


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