Education has been, and remains, one of the dominant features of my life even after my retirement from the teaching profession. Being out of ‘the system’ affords me the opportunity to now take an external view and it saddens me greatly to not only have all my fears and concerns confirmed but in many ways shown to be but the tip of a social catastrophe. My rants and rages about ofsted, governmental ignorance, selection, private schools and more are but egregious examples of the overall appalling state of our education ‘system’. It is a peculiarly English affair.
Despite my wide ranging reading and interest in things educational I am occasionally brought up short and made newly aware of the utter awfulness of it all. Such an occasion has just happened whilst reading Danny Dorling’s essay in today’s Education Grauniad: “We are the extremists of Europe”.
We too often simply read stuff that confirms our prejudices and I began reading expecting my educational prejudices to be confirmed. But, an early point of his essay caused me to stop reading, think awhile and then start writing this. The point was about the numbers of children currently being excluded from our schools, the latest figures from 2013-14 show that well over 100,000 secondary aged students with special educational needs were excluded, for primary aged children the total was over 36,000. These are enormous numbers and are of great concern.
Initially, like Mr Dorling, I think of the more obvious reasons for these egregious numbers. The governmental obsessions with testing, the massively distorting effects of ofsted and their inspections, the consequent grading of schools and teachers resulting in schools focusing almost exclusively on their ‘ranking’ in the league tables. It all results in schools excluding those poor souls who will not perform well in the purely academic tests to try and boost schools rankings. What a sorry state of affairs.
Beyond the simple exclusion of those who will lower rankings, the parents of the lower achievers are encouraged in various ways to keep their offspring away from school, certainly during testing times.
What exacerbates this is that there is no official, certainly national, recording of what happens to those who are excluded. Some will find other school placements, some may be home-schooled, yet others go to ‘pupil referral units’ or similar. But many will simply disappear from official records and yet it takes little imagination to know where they will move on to: unemployment, prison, crime, mental health institutions, homelessness, vagrancy, and the like. All not only costing the state more and putting ever greater strain on already creaking state organisations but oh so many individual stories of despair.
And yet I continue to think of the deeper, more nationally ingrained reasons for this appalling state of affairs. Mr Dorling certainly does as he discusses the relative low levels of educational spending in this country; even including the exorbitant costs of private education our overall spending is lower than other western european countries. This only highlights the relatively little spent on state education. (Seems to me that as less is spent there is more accountability and scrutiny, unlike for the private companies that steal ever greater amounts of common wealth and are increasingly unaccountable.) And with the tts class attack there is ever greater exacerbation of the problems with more testing, greater break up of local control and accountability, introduction of dodgy free schools and overt privatisation through the ‘academy’ programme.
And yet what underpins this class attack? It is being perpetrated by a class of very privileged people, highly educated in an increasingly narrow and particular way. Why even the current EU debate has very recently been dominated by 2 alumni of the same school, it is an increasingly rarefied state of affairs. What we now have is an apogee of the english class system (Scotland and Wales wisely decided not to impose the recent tt educational changes); an ever reductive system that keeps out more and more of us huddled masses:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The ‘golden door’ is letting increasingly less of us through, enough I say, let the pitchforks fly.
Keep on keeping on, love Duncan.