The role of education in creating a fairer and more equal society

My daughter recently turned four and we had to start thinking about schools for her. Not that you actually have to remind yourself of that as I sensed an almost obsessive attitude with schools and what school you would chose for your child around me.

I always felt myself getting very upset in a lot of the school conversations and I had to think for a moment why that was. To me, it is that this talk about needing to get into “the good school” always seems less related to any real knowledge of what the school actually teaches or how they relate to children, but that “the good school” will prevent a child from ending up in a lower social class. This deep-seated fear of downward social movement is something that worries me greatly when it comes to promoting a fairer and more equal society, and yet the competition around schooling and the Ofsted regime seem to do a great job keeping the anxieties going. While I understand very well that we all want our children to find a good job and be financially comfortable, I simply cannot stand for the idea that this is the only determinant in making a good life and promoting a strong society.

There is so much talk about needing to value nurses and social workers and teachers and the like more, that these professions are overworked and under paid. The government resents the fact that it is losing good lower level medical staff to countries like Australia.

Yet, it seems to me that at primary school level, there is a substantial section of society that is effectively communicating to their child that these kinds of jobs are to be avoided at all costs and that getting into “the good school” will do that for you. What does that say about valuing these professions that this country so desperately needs?

What is a good school? To me, it is one has as key aim to educate people that fill the professional needs of a society, which requires all sorts of different jobs to function. It is a school that stands strong on promoting the value of each strand of work and that gives its students the confidence to pursue a trade that they find interesting, meaningful and fulfilling.

In order for that to happen, teachers are not only or merely there to deliver outstanding results in maths and English. They act as companions and observers to the child’s developing character and the affinity to skills that is revealing itself in it. They are there to help the child become self-confident by getting to know themselves and what they are good at and enjoy and by encouraging them to be themselves.

This may mean that a teacher, drilled to bring every child up to national skills level, will need to sit down with a (middle class) parent at some point and talk about whether the 11+ may really be the path for child that will make them happy. Or whether university is even the way to go.

Education works in the service of the needs of society and in the service of the needs of the individuality of its students. The primary goal has to be to introduce pupils to a wide range of subjects, philosophies and skills sets and allowing them to find that professional path that is in or closest to their nature.

That is equality to me, and will work wonders in equalising how we staff and (financially) value different jobs in this society.

* Carolin Hollingsworth joined the Liberal Democrats in 2016 and lives in Kent.

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  • ……………………..There is so much talk about needing to value nurses and social workers and teachers and the like more, that these professions are overworked and under paid…………
    A little off-topic, but as those recipients of the services of the above professions are little valued by society, it is small wonder that the ‘providers’ are not…..

    “Huge rise in hospital beds in England taken up by people with malnutrition”…..Critics blame three-fold rise over the last ten years on poverty, cutbacks to meals on wheels services for the elderly and inadequate social care….

    That, coupled with ‘Save the Children’ and ‘Red Cross’ ads, aimed at the UK, makes one proud to be British?

    Sadly, for half of these last ten years, we were in government!….

  • What is a good school? One that inspires children, of whatever background, to want to learn, to be curious, to be interested in the world around them. To enjoy and value learning for its own sake. And not to be either just an exam factory, or a holding pen for those who don’t want to be there.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 26th Nov '16 - 10:41am

    “Education works in the service of the needs of society and in the service of the needs of the individuality of its students. The primary goal has to be to introduce pupils to a wide range of subjects, philosophies and skills sets and allowing them to find that professional path that is in or closest to their nature.”

    As quoted above this part is only the beginning, and I try to promote a life-long learning attitude but the other problem faced right at the beginning of receiving an education is what is the alternative for those who don’t want to within a school system?

  • Nigel Jones 27th Nov '16 - 9:59am

    An excellent message. I proposed the motion against grammar schools at the Federal Conference and said that we believe very much in opportunities for social mobility but “Actually, we believe in more than social mobility; we want even people who choose to stay in particular social groups to be better educated and better off. Not only is that good for them, it is necessary for our economy. ”
    Unfortunately, for some ‘leftist’ politicians this means teaching them all the same and can lead to ‘dumbing down’. So I would agree with your comments about helping each child to be self-confident, enjoying learning and being themselves. However, I would add that it is important for them to aim high in their learning, according to their aptitudes.
    I hope you will contribute to the consultations for our party’s Education Policy Working Group and join the Liberal Democrat Education Association.

    Nigel Jones
    Chair, Liberal Democrat Education Association

  • The ideal school for any one child will be different from what is ideal for others, but the best schools will meet the needs, if not the wants, of as many children as possible.

    The list of desirable outcomes from schools is so long, but key is ensuring that all children have a strong grasp of the basics from an academic point of view, but also the sort of skills that will allow them to function in society, and progress in the direction that suits them, whether it’s to become an apprentice, to head to uni, or to go straight into work. Life skills for everyone should include nutrition, cooking skills, basic finance and consumer rights, not to mention how our democracy (supposedly) works.

    Teachers need to be able to teach those who want to learn without having a disproportionate amount of their time diverted on babysitting those who are unable or unwilling for whatever reason. However, those children must not be neglected, and ideally their numbers should be minimised from the off. I’d argue that we depend heavily on the attitudes of parents here, but schools must have the resources to be able to help pupils who are from families that struggle, or don’t care.

    IMO, where reasonably possible, children should not have to travel silly distances to reach school, and there needs to be a ‘work-life’ balance for school pupils as well as teachers. Ideally, a school will have children from a mixture of backgrounds, although that is more at the hands of town planning than education policy, but something we should be mindful of.

  • Margaret A. Rutter 27th Nov '16 - 6:06pm

    May I have details of LibDem Education Association. I have been a member for a number of years and this is the first I have heard of them.

  • Mavarine Du-Marie 27th Nov '16 - 8:51pm

    Liberal Democrat Education Association website:

    We are an Associated Organisation of the Liberal Democrats. Membership is open to Liberal Democrat party members and includes parents and young people, teachers, early years’ specialists and lecturers, governors, councillors, educationalists.

    Working closely with our members, the Liberal Democrat Education Association aims to improve education and support for children and young people through:

    Publishing articles and running conferences
    Generating new ideas and promoting new LibDem education policies
    Providing advice to Liberal Democrat Party and to Liberal Democrats in government.

    Twenty LDEA members, Parliamentarians and Councillors met in February 2016
    for a 24- hour conference on the theme of “Education for Real Life”.

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