Election 2010: we’re in bits and pieces

By | 22 April 2010

Ask a voter what really matters in this election, and most will say the NHS, some will say the economy. It’s surprising how few appear to say education.
Surprising, when you think that we have just as much vested interest in education as we have in health. Lives are dictated and shaped by education. With it, you have hope; without it, you are lost, with diminished life-chances in a world which expects a highly literate, numerate workforce.
So, it matters. And it’s definitely up for grabs in this election. What most of us cannot see is what happens next and who will do the grabbing.
But it does look as if break up is imminent, whoever is elected. Want to start your own school? Fine! Go ahead! Whatever you like! Swedish models and Finnish examples are bandied about regardless of how Swedish and Finnish societies differ from multicultural, multifaith, multilingual Britain. KIPP schools in America? Wonderful – let’s get some here. And have you seen what is being done in Singapore? So who can do that for us?
Er, how about the government? Is it shockingly old-fashioned in these modern times to hope that the state could provide a good education for all its citizens? Isn’t that – like running the NHS or the armed forces – something we expect government to do?
There probably never was a golden age of education, and Lord knows the recent past has not been glorious. I’m not saying government always got it right, but has it really got so bad that the whole thing must be dismantled and cast to the highest grabber to do better if they can? Teachers? Parents? Business people who sometimes seem to want a school the way they might have wanted a train set when they were young? Surely fragmentation is the road to even greater disparities than are apparent now in what should be the birthright of every child born in a civilised country – a good education? If there is excellence anywhere, ought it not to be everywhere?
The trouble with the free for all is that each individual school intends only to be the best it can for the pupils it serves, and devil take the others. Surely as a nation we want someone at the top to decide all state schools will be equally good? And make them so? And if it gets hard, keep trying, and do not give up, because the government has a responsibility to all its citizens. Passing that responsibility to Tom, Dick and Harriet – surely that’s not acceptable?
One can see how the excellence of the independent sector is seductive, but they have more about them than independence: they have years of experience too, and a concentration on education going back centuries, as well as a fully-fledged awareness of the whole student and his or her needs, including the artistic, creative, physical, musical, sporting, and psychological elements that go to the making of a happy and successful human being. Buy into one of those, and you are buying a known product.
But while you start wholesale nationwide experimenting with models for schools run by whoever turns up and all the staff are bedding down in the new arrangements – or not – children pass through the classes and no-one gets a second chance. If Every Child Matters, how can you just abandon them to the hope of a promised-land school which may or may not deliver?
Government may have the difficult job of forging excellence in every school for every child. Tough. That’s the job. That’s what you signed up for.
And if it is not excellent everywhere already, then what the hell has government been doing for the last 13 years, with its promises of “education, education, education”, while education falls into a disarray to which the only answer appears to be: “Here, you have it, whoever you are, and see if you can do better. We give up.”
How dare they?
Originally printed in SecEd at http://www.sec-ed.co.uk/cgi-bin/go.pl/article/article.html?uid=47679;type_uid=7
• This guest election editorial has been written by Hilary Moriarty, director of the Boarding Schools Association

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