I tend to spend most mornings having a quick flick through the news on three websites – the BBC, the Telegraph online and the Guardian online. I appreciate what I am exposing myself on each of these sites (although I prefer the rugby reporting in the Telegraph more than any other paper). This gives me a variety of headlines and opinions so I can digest the news and form my own opinions.
One thing that does stand out is the comments on both the Telegraph and the Guardian, particularly when it comes to Education. Not only is it quite breathtaking how quickly the political lines are drawn, but how, in true internet form, the comments break down into firmly entrenched positions with barbed comments thrown out targeted and random. The commentators aren’t having discussions; it’s a shouting match. This means on some very important and challenging subjects you can end up walking away from the whole mess, which is a shame because I am a firm believer of diamonds in the rough and you wonder if you have missed that small insight that could help you resolve your own opinions on the matter.
I have written before of how I feel it is time to take the politics and politicians out of Education. Politics can achieve much good, but so often it comes at a price, something which should not be a condition that needs to be considered when it comes to our children. In this particular section in the Guardian, comments about the A* grade at A level had quickly become a shouting match over Equality in Education particularly when it comes to free education vs paid education. All sorts accusations, opinions, counter arguments were being thrown around like so much confettee’d explosives. You had parents sacrificing everything to get their child a paid education, as it was seen as a better option in their area, then they were told how they were just worsening the situation, and were part of the problem and not the solution. Others defended the right for a person to spend their money how they saw fit, and that included on their child’s education. Still more saw the only way was to “close down” all the public and private schools and just have a state education system. Political ideology had far more to do with these comments than any sound and logical base of argument.
What these all failed to note was that in a capitalist system, the people with the money will always get what they want, no matter how you legislate. Ban private education? Bring in tutors. Ban Tutors? Bring in online VLE’s. Enforce state only education? Emigration. The second factor is that nothing is perfect and in any structure like a business, councils, education, you will have some who over perform, some who perform and some who underperform. While this underperformance can be ameliorated it cannot be totally eradicated. So while statistically we could offer our children a fair education, the realism is somewhere a school will be letting their pupils down, providing them with a below standard education. Add to this the middle classes driving up house prices in the areas with good schools, more and more families are becoming increasingly having to “make do” with what can be provided.
Lets skip around the question of making do – what is being provided as an education in this country is another kettle of fish entirely.
What we lack is an equality of opportunity. Lets forget every other equality as we know that inevitably to provide equality for some, we end up discriminating against others. Every child should have an equal opportunity to a good standard of education in their area and preferably from their local school. If you as a parent want more than that then you should be able to pay for it. What happens when this doesn’t happen? You can’t change provider to the best supplier in your area, because if you could afford to do that you would have done it already. You can’t sue anyone for breaking contracts. You can’t “opt out” of state education and take your contributions elsewhere, taxes et al. You can’t apply for a housing support grant to help you buy an equivalent property in Oxford if your child has been accepted into Magdalen College School and you are from Merthy Tydfil. While as a parent you can question the quality of the education at your local school via the Governors and the LA, as a consumer you cannot choose to go elsewhere just like that as the opportunity does not exit, unless you are one of the few who can afford to sell up and move house or country. Now add on top of this that this isn’t equality for the parents either; the few routes through this maze are only available to those who can dedicate the time and resources to find them. There are too many dangerous cul-de-sacs for parents unused to fighting for the best.
As for schools, how many of them are set up to provide higher and more challenging levels of education for pupils who are academically gifted, while providing the same challenge through vocational or other avenues? How many primary, higher and secondary schools are flexible enough to provide the wide range of opportunities, educational experiences and chances to show qualified talents to their pupils? Why should a child have to leave school, just to find out where their gifts lie – that is something they should leave school already confident in.
With a country that has such a lack of diversity of career opportunities in markets that lay outside of “labours of love”, the question arises of to what end are we educating our children if the education system lacks the opportunity for them to show how they can shine?