Wednesday, March 07, 2007

'Education, Education'

When my parents were at school high hopes were put into the prospects of comprehensive education. It had been noticed that there had been a high socio-economic gap between the children attending grammer schools and those in secondary moderns. Comprehensive schools, it was hoped, would alleviate this. Education would no longer discriminate, and all children from all classes and all abilities would be given equal opportunites.

Alas, it was not to be. What we have instead is a new form of two tier education. Well performing state schools look more like grammer schools with their large intake of children from middle class backgrounds, while those not born in such fortunate circumstances tend to be segregated in what look like badly run secondary moderns.
The government could not afford to ignore this problem, but their proposed measures seem to be doing little to change it.

The rhetoric of parental choice did nothing to address the issues surrounding children in those 'failing' schools, as what kind of parent would 'choose' to send their children to a badly performing school? In reality there is no substance behind the rhetoric, save for appealing to the consumerist tendencies of the class it seeked to impress.

I understand parents wanting the best for their children. But the very idea of professing to believe in a religion you do not truly believe in in order to get your child into the right school is abhorrent to me. And what do you tell the child in question when you are taking him and her to the services? Do you lie and tell them you believe everything they are taught in catechism/Sunday school is all true? Or do you tell the truth and say you don't believe it but you are putting them through it for their education? Either way you would be a fraud.

Segregation in schools by class is not easy to tackle. The poor don't have the same choices that the more prosperous have. A school in a wealthy suburb is likely to be high on the league tables, which is not the case for a school in a run down area of the inner city. Knowing the system the middle classes can move to the right catchment areas, guaranteeing their child a place. Besides the fact that they may not know how to work the system so well, poor families have fewer options on where they live anyway. A sought after school is likely to drive property prices in the surrounding area up.

I don't see the idea of poorly performing schools taking on a quota of middle class children as being workable. Their parents simply will not have it. Yet perhaps hihg performers being forced to accept a quota of children from lower socio economic backgrounds/lower achievement record may just be workable.

Poorer children do not tend to underachieve because they are stupid, it is due to a myriad of factors. Culture is one issue. Poorer children may have fewer aspirations, for one thing. If you know the result may well be a dead end job or welfare as you see your parents and their peers then there would seem little motivation. The exceptional may pull themselves out of this but not everyone is exceptional. Somebody born in the right circumstances may do very well, while go with the flow if they were not so fortunate. Doing well when you are in a run school where studiousness is frowned upon by your peers, and your parents don't have a computer or a range of books on their shelf requires much harder effort.

Singling out failing schools and 'naming and shaming' them was an unpleasant measure which the already stressed teachers could have done without. Rather those schools could be given extra help and facilities. A few of the city academies seemed to have worked out well, while others have not been so fortunate.

It is very sad to still see this problem in the 21st century. It certainly shows we are not 'all middle class now', and it brings shame on the UK for being one of the most unequal societies in the West. It is needless to say that educational segregation, whether or not it is a deliberate policy, further obstructs social mobility.

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