The Education system in Britain up to 2021.
The Education system in the UK has been hijacked from it’s original ethos.
Policy changes on the subject can be viewed as having been mindless. Often because there is rarely any correlation between the inequalities of achievement and social mobility, with the inequalities of the world at large.
Many of the politicians who have been charged with reforming our Learning institution do so without understanding the wider social trends that are involved.
Whilst many may not understand the logic behind these educational reforms, it is vital to remember that the education sector provides much profiteering opportunities.
Responses to the UK Covid- 19 pandemic and the continual development of learning technology have created even more financial opportunities for this sector.
A shift in values, and ‘The Great Debate’
James Callaghan’s 1976 speech on Education, saw the beginning of a shift in focus away from the post war comprehensive model, & towards a future that involved outside actors deciding on educational policies.
The model took the autonomous control away from the teachers and placing it firmly in the hands of economic policy makers.
The catastrophic changes that have been made since 1976, have morphed it away from its original purposes, the great welfare benefits, and the principles of public service.
However, teaching has now been aligned with the principles of neo-liberalism. Meaning that it is now firmly embroiled with the capitalist system of market exchange and competition. Over the next 45 years, education has changed almost beyond recognition.
The learning environment has been morphed into a commodity and that has hardly been noticed to have been happening. However, proponents of the change, declared that there was much necessity for such a change.
High unemployment, public expenditure cuts and widespread industrial action; had all caused a major crisis in Britain. One in which critics of comprehensive and progressive learning, scapegoated teachers as causing this crisis. Creating the narrative that teachers could no longer be trusted with educating students.
A new model of teaching was developed, designed to regulate the sector and to create a formula for accountability.
The sell off of learning & the pressures of SAT’s
Educational policy reforms continued at pace throughout the Thatcher years, during which a massive reorientation and re-articulation of education took place. Learning became something that was looked on as being an economy of knowledge; that could feed into a mode of economic productivity and international competitiveness.
This competitiveness eventually led to policy makers investigating and creating policy, designed to make education an individual private good and tool for social mobility. As well as creating educational policy on educational management, continuing professional development, teacher training, the introduction of the national curriculum and SAT’s tests (under the 1988 Education Reform Act), and in 1992 the creation of school league tables.
The introduction of national SAT’s tests created a uniform way of assessing the teaching standards of our nation’s schools.
Although, originally designed to be fun for children, under the old ‘Standard assessment tasks’ format; these tasks soon morphed into the ‘Standard Attainment Tests’ which were no longer fun, but instead proving incredibly stressful for children and their parents.
This mode of assessment becoming little more than a tool to keep OFSTED off teachers backs and to feed into the marketisation of schools, that league tables became a bi-product of.
As such it can be argued that this method of assessment is not designed to assist in children’s educational development; but instead leads to a curriculum being merely moulded around children passing these tests and hitting the desired age-related learning targets that have been set.
League tables are often not truly indicative of the educational standards of schools, and often say more about the selectivity of individual schools and the children they allow into their institution. League tables are concerned with academic excellence and care nothing about the other skills that young people may have.
Over the last couple of decades there has been a huge debate that has raged on between the political parties, over whether such educational attainment measures and league tables are healthy or even useful in the teaching of children.
However, it is not merely the existence of these indicators of educational excellence that are concerning; but also the social inequality that they point to within our system of education.
Good education should be accessible to children across all social classes
The 2008 report entitled ‘Every Child and Equal Child’ claims:-
“every child has equality of access to a quality educational experience, every child is given the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, the ethos of every school promotes the inclusion and participation of all children”.
However, since our children’s learning has been monetarised, the unequal distribution of resources means that this claim is unfortunately not true.
This links into the school league tables, from which the child intake numbers and subsequent funding of schools all pivots off. Therefore, the standards of education are very much dependent on the funding available to individual schools.
The pandemic has highlighted greatly the social divisions that exist within education. Children who come from social class backgrounds with better economic means, will have undoubtedly not fallen so far behind in their education.
Whilst a pledge was made to address this inequality, and money has been put aside to catch children up on missed education; yet there has been little sign of this being put into practice. Thus, this pandemic is likely to have created an even bigger social divide in education; one that will see many young people severely disadvantaged in the future.
The changing face of employment, facilitated the change to education
All throughout the decades there has been a debate raging on about the kind of education that should be thrust upon young people. Neoliberalism has raised the bar for educational attainment, by insisting that education must be competitive across international markets.
The changing face of employment in Britain, the loss of industry and the creation of a gig economy, has all impacted on the kind of education that is now provided, but is now very much geared around the economy that Britain has now become.
Unfortunately, whilst the politicians during the Thatcher era considered it essential to propel us down this neo-liberal path; we are now beginning to see signs of this being a failed ideology.
Far from Britain being competitive on an international level, statistics suggest that we are lagging behind many of our European neighbours. This situation is unlikely to change, unless there are major reforms made to our Educational system.
How might politics be looking to reform learning in the future.
Keir Starmer, in his recent Fabien Society pamphlet entitled ‘The Road Ahead’, has promised to create opportunities for all children to “play an instrument, join a competitive sports team, visit the seaside, the countryside, or the city, go to cultural institutions, ride a bike and learn how to debate their ideas” by the time they reach the age of 10.
It is truly sad that this is not already the reality in Britain! Unfortunately, this says a lot about the immense pressures put on children, by our current system of education.
This pressure is only likely to increase under the proposed focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) based learning that is being propelled as the only way forward for education in our technology driven world.
Whilst this method and focus of learning is being sold as concentrating on the contemporary world need for filling the gaps in employment; ultimately it is likely to only be geared towards some of our young people. Britain has one of the biggest Arts industries in the world, and a shift away from arts education will likely impact that industry in the future.
The biggest disadvantages of STEM are that it is elitist and that it is directed at those who have a natural motivation to succeed and conversely leaves behind low achieving students.
Therefore, is this new proposed way forward for education really promising to create equality in education? Or will the same children be equally disadvantaged as they are now?
Schooling for life and not just career focused
The widening participation scheme launched by the Tory government in 2015, sought to provide greater access to higher education. Changing a once elitist institution, into something that was accessible to people from all walks of life.
Creating more opportunities are still required for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, mature students without formal qualifications, and the BAME community, to enter higher levels of learning.
A concept of lifelong learning was put into practice. Integrating the two concepts :- ‘learning through life’ & ‘The four pillars of learning’.
The purpose of lifelong learning is, to shift focus away from the tradition formal methods to a model that encourages a broader expanse of knowledge more suitable to sustaining human development.
Whilst this kind of learning is undoubtedly beneficial to creating a more educated population, it is also seen as being essential for slowing down mental decline. This can only be good news, being as people are living longer.
Lifelong learning goes way beyond being just aimed at professional development. It has also been designed to expand on personal development, as well as active citizenship and learners ultimate employability.
The way forward
Educational reform is very much needed in Britain.
Standards in British schools are severely lagging those of many other nations. Whilst our current system is focused largely on assessing pupils progress, more focus is needed on the standards of teaching.
Many parents and opposition politicians would agree that SATs put too much pressure on pupils, and that league tables are not always an accurate measure of the true standards of our educational institutions.
How can schooling be reformed in Britain?
There is a sense that we need to take education back to a time when it taught young people how to prepare for life. Because a staggering 1 in 10 people in Britain cannot cook, and high levels of personal debt would suggest that many people have not learnt the art of budgeting. Valuable life skills that were once part of the educational process.
Undoubtedly, the basics of English and Maths are very much needed, but often these are watered down by the sheer volume and expanse of subjects now contained within our national curriculum.
A reduction in what is taught at primary level, would ensure that greater focus could be given to the essential basic subjects. Ensuring that more children can read and write before they move on to secondary school. It is not acceptable that an estimated 200,000 children leave primary schools without these basic skills.
Teaching is long overdue a major overhaul, to ensure that it is fit for the demands of the world at large.
The UK needs a New Political Party to put our children first in education.
Karen Burns. Coventry.