the Disillusioned kid: Education, Education, Education
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Friday, July 09, 2004

Education, Education, Education

Part of me wonders if Blair's new school plan is being advanced seriously. Some on the left will no doubt make the usual noises about their shock that a Labour government could advance such a proposal, but I have few illusions about the supposedly progressive credentials of the incumbent government. My main issue is that I simply can't see how the plan will work.

Apparently the plan is to allow schools to specialist in certain subjects. Such specialist schools will then be able to assess potential students for "aptitude" which is apparently something very different to ability. My opposition to this stems not only from my general dubiousness about selection in education, but from confusion about the practical implications. What happens if a child with a particular "aptitude" for English lives in a town with two secondary schools one specialising in languages the other in arts. Would that child commute to the nearest school specialising in English even if it was in the next town? Or further? If not, then what is the point of the specialisation?

It's pretty clear that the point of the whole exercise is, as an article in the Guardian notes,
to lure middle-class families back into the state sector. Although only 7% of children go to private schools across the country, the figure is 20% or higher in some areas, such as central London. "There is a significant chunk of them who go private because they feel despairing about the quality of education. They are the people we are after," Mr Clarke said. (Guardian, 9/7/04)
As in so much of New Labour's political programme the working-classes are seen as inconsequential, although they will be seriously affected by the plans. Francis Beckett notes that while Blair has promised that rich and poor kids will have the same chance of going to good schools,
that promise is not worth the paper it's written on. Already better-funded schools are allowed to select 10% of their children by "aptitude" (which is no different, in practice, from selecting by ability). Parents who can work the system always stand a better chance of getting places in the desirable schools. No measures are planned to prevent this (Ibid)
Such is always the way.

The government also remains committed to the idea of "faith schools", in my opinion an even worse idea. It may be true, as often claimed, that such schools get better results, but this is due in part to the fact that they can select their intake. As Beckett points out, "Confining your intake to children of religious parents is a way of weeding out many of the problem children, and forcing less well-funded schools to take them" (Ibid). Nonetheless this is not the point. Despite claims to the contrary we live in a society stricken with racism. There are something in the region of 200,000 racist attacks every year and a far greater number of racist incidents. The best way to deal with this is to increase interaction and integration of different communities. The establishment of a de facto segregated education system, however you dress it up can only exacerbate these problems, encouraging communities to retreat into themselves.

This solution generalises. In my opinion education should be about much more than children's ability to jump through hoops on command and do well in whichever test is being used this week. The most important thing is the contribution it makes to children's social development. I have always felt that the important thing about comprehensive schools was that they brought everyone together forcing people from different backgrounds, cultures, classes and of different abilities (or aptitudes!) to interact. It would be a tragedy if that was lost in the pursuit of a few middle-class votes.

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