Jacob Hunt Stewart, Honorary member of BULS, Treasurer of West Midlands Young Labour and former Youth and Student Officer of Selly Oak CLP writes his first guest blog – on the marketisation of education.
In 1997 our Labour Government came into power with a commitment to ‘education, education, education,’ and a lot has been done for education; a massive increase in the numbers going into higher and further education, improved exam results at GCSE and A-level and a building and refurbishment program which will improve the facilities of schools across the country. Despite these achievements there are still challenges ahead; children from a wealthier background are still getting better results than those from a poorer.
We’ve seen a number of attempts to rectify this problem, from the introduction of specialist status for schools, to academies and now trust schools. However they aren’t working, indeed a number of the new flagship academies have received poor OFSTED results and others are said to be rejecting pupils because of their poor academic expectations, the very pupils the academies were designed to help. The result of these failures has been that children from less wealthy backgrounds, the working class, are suffering, being left behind.
Surely this situation tells us something about education; firstly that education should be run by the state, not by private business or wealthy donors to schools. It is not the role of schools to specifically train pupils to work for Microsoft or some other big multi-nationals; it is the role of schools to educate, to prepare children for the wider world.
Secondly it tells us that our education system should not be about competition. Cooperation in education imparts much more on schools, their pupils and the local community in which schools operate, whereas competition will always create losers, predominantly in areas of educational disadvantage. League tables engender an atmosphere of competition among local schools which instead of cooperating and working together turn to competition, aiming to attract children from more advantaged backgrounds to improve their position in the table.
This competition is apparent not just in academies but across the educational spectrum, with some religious schools using interviews pertaining to be a check that the pupil is religious to assess the class of the parents and therefore whether the pupil is likely to perform well. Other schools discourage children and parents from disadvantaged backgrounds by making the uniform very expensive, a barrier to children from a poorer background.
Similar behaviour is not just apparent but institutionalised across the education system in a number of other ways. The introduction of specialisation allows schools with specialist status to select 10% of its pupils on aptitude, in other words the opportunity to select 10% of pupils who are going to perform well and ensure good results for the school. These powers are rarely used but there presence represents the Governments pursuit of an education system based on competition rather than cooperation.
The final and perhaps most obvious way in which competition is institutionalised in our education system is that we still have 164 grammar schools in England. They come in different forms, in Kent and Buckinghamshire they exist in a complete grammar system of grammars and secondary moderns, whilst in places like Birmingham and London they offer a different choice to the local comprehensives*. In both cases they ensure that education is a competition. The market which this turns education into can only be detrimental towards the poorest and most disadvantaged in society, they will invariably be left in the schools which lose out in the market which our education system is turning into.
It is time for us to forget the idea of a market in education, to stop selection at 11 and to ensure that education stays out of the hands of private business. The government has started to head in the right direction with its new code on admissions; it must expand on this and ensure that every child receives the same opportunity, not leaving them to a postcode lottery of good and bad schools in an educational market, aiming for cooperation not competition.
* It’s questionable whether a comprehensive can actually be called a comprehensive when it doesn’t actually take in all the local children, with some of them being creamed off by the local grammars.