Some thoughts on education

I  left school nearly forty years ago in 1980 aged 16 since then I have come across countless numbers of people who express surprise that I didn’t go into further education and obtain a degree.

My response is usually that I have been to the ‘University of Life.’

I am of course far from alone, sent to a poor quality comprehensive in an area where my contemporaries with parents who had the necessary means went to the private school nearby. I was put through a ‘sausage machine’ designed to push me out at the end fit only for low paid work.

I received no individual attention, nothing unusual there nor did any of my fellow students. At 13 I was required to choose 8 subjects, only half which really interested me. When it came time to leave any careers advice or guidance was non existent.

I have never gone back to that school and have no desire to.

Wind forward to the present day and we have an Education set up that is still failing millions. A system where overwhelmingly those from a higher social strata get to go to the top universities and then onto the top jobs.

Our parliament, civil service and judiciary isn’t even close to being representative of the wider population.

Some on the left advocate the abolition of the private schools, others suggest measures like the ending of their charitable status and the levying of VAT on fees. However the answer as far as I am concerned is to look at fundamentally improving the state system.

State schools need to be given more freedom through greater local control, class sizes have to be a lot smaller and teachers encouraged to deliver individually centred tuition. 

Entry to the profession should be opened up and recruitment widened to encourage those with expertise in a particular area to take up a role in teaching. This already happens in the FE sector.

The role of the regulator Ofsted needs to be examined closely and its remit changed to ensure schools are judged on a variety of measures including those mentioned above.

All of this of course needs money and we should advocate the increased spending needed to provide a first class state education so that in future no child is left behind.

* David is a member of Horsham and Crawley Liberal Democrats

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  • Steve Trevethan 1st Mar '19 - 7:46pm

    T Y F Y A!
    State education could and should be enabled to do better and money is an important factor.
    It is reliably reported that the annual “charitable rebate” for one pupil at a “public” school is about the cost of a year’s education for one secondary pupil attending a Dorset secondary school.

  • @Steve Trevethan

    actually not so reliably – school fees are not eligible for gift aid.

  • Graham Evans 1st Mar '19 - 10:10pm

    It’s not entirely true to say FE has opened up to those from a non-teaching background. The wide range of skills taught in general FE colleges has always meant that they had to recruit as teachers people with existing manual skills, as for example bricklaying, carpentry, etc. However, in recent years even these recruits are now required to obtain a teaching qualification as part of their on the job training.

  • Peter Martin 2nd Mar '19 - 10:49am

    @ David,

    “State schools need to be given more freedom through greater local control, class sizes have to be a lot smaller……….. ”

    Ok but more freedom to local councils and schools, generally, isn’t going to provide the money to hire the teachers to reduce class sizes – except, perhaps, in the wealthy areas of the country.

    “Our parliament, civil service and judiciary isn’t even close to being representative of the wider population.”

    Of course not. Why would it be? These people were being taught by in classes classes half the size of the ones you were in. Their teachers were less stressed. The buildings were better maintained. They had better sports facilities etc. They made useful social connections which stood them in good stead for later life.

    “A system where overwhelmingly those from a higher social strata get to go to the top universities and then onto the top jobs.”

    And get parachuted into safe Labour seats in areas where they had no previous connections and no particular previous interest!

  • Helen Dudden 3rd Mar '19 - 11:49am

    You have not addressed the lack of accessibility in our schools and places of education. Children, often have to go “out of area” to be educated. Do you feel that’s acceptable? Often, they do have to use the same classroom for all lessons. If disability is to be retarded as the norm is this the way forward?

  • “…we have an Education set up that is still failing millions.”

    Absolutely! But I differ from some in that I don’t believe the answer is more spending; that may be necessary, but I think it unlikely.

    It depends on your view: are education’s troubles mainly the result of a shortage of money or are there deeper problems – is it ‘broken’ in one or more ways? Surely the latter. A “poor quality comprehensive” should not exist nor should schools be “sausage machines”.

    Throwing money at a broken system only results in a bigger and more expensive broken system with more bureaucracy, more vested interests and more unhappiness all round. So, the priority should be to fix the system. Once that’s done and money starts being wisely spent, costs fall, and results improve dramatically. That may be counterintuitive, I’ve experienced exactly that in a large company.

    A ‘sausage machine’ is an apt metaphor because it treats pupils as standard products, made to a formula. They are pawns, denied ‘agency’, meaning it’s done for others, not for them. This is what is sometimes called ‘producer-push’ – the producers in this instance being the education establishment (NOT including front-line teachers who instinctively know how wrong this is judging by those in my extended family).

    Producer-push rarely works. Effective systems use ‘consumer-pull’ approaches that supply what users want. In education that now means getting the grades to get into the university of choice – but only if you are in the ~50% for whom that’s a reasonable aspiration.

    For the other 50% there’s roughly nothing, only a mess intended to hide youth unemployment more than do anything useful. Training for trade skills has never been of any concern whatsoever to the UK’s ruling class in strong contrast to the excellent training for the traditional professions which does concern them.

    A coherent approach to training for trade skills (parallel to but very different from university) would provide consumer-pull for the forgotten 50% (plus many more that now go to university but probably shouldn’t).

    In short, the solution to the broken school system lies, in large part, in devising a serious and world-class system for post-school training in trade skills.

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