The Conservatives are currently making a lot of noise on the issue of education, clearly trying to win a few easy votes by pointing out how disastrous Labour’s education policies have been (never mind that most of these policies were actually devised by Kenneth Clarke!).
Whether a Conservative government would do a better job with education is doubtful; however, in opposition, they are able to provide some very useful data to show the extent to which the current government is damaging the education system.
A recent study published by the Conservatives shows that, in 2007, only 25.3 percent of pupils in the 10 percent most deprived areas gained at least five A-C grades at GCSE level. In the richest 10 percent of areas, the figure was 68.4 percent. This is a sharp increase in the disparity between the groups – in 2006, the figures were 29.2 percent in the poorest areas and 57.6 percent in the richest areas.
According to The Times of 31 December 2007: “The figures also show that the attainment gap between rich and poor continues to widen as pupils progress through school. At age 7, the performance gap between pupils in the 10 percent richest and poorest areas was 20 percentage points in 2007. At age 16, however, the gap had more than doubled to 43.1 percent, suggesting that far from being a leveller, school was increasing the disparity.” (‘Rich pull away from poor in the classroom’)
Michael Gove, Shadow Children’s Secretary, correctly commented that “if you have nominal parental choice over school admissions, but an undersupply of good schools, you will find that the sharp-elbowed middle-class parents get access to excellent schools, but those trapped in deprived areas do not.”
Of course, Mr Gove will tell you that this is the result of government incompetence. In fact, the channelling of state education resources towards the petty bourgeoisie and the more privileged section of the working class is done by design. As they say in the world of computing, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”
A government spokeswoman responded to the study as follows: “We can only tackle deprivation and poverty by changing the aspirations of young people, their parents and the education system.” Inasmuch as this sentence means anything whatsoever, it’s that we have to lower poor people’s expectations!
According to a separate set of figures published by the Conservatives on 27 December, “teachers are leaving the profession in increasing numbers, with a quarter of a million no longer working in schools” . (‘Teachers “quitting profession in droves”’, The Times, 28 December 2007)
The figures show that, in the years 2000-2005, 95,500 teachers left the profession, compared with 40,600 in the previous five years. According to Michael Gove, the problem is “a combination of classroom bureaucracy, government micro-management and poor discipline”. We would suggest that the real issues are the increasing dominance of exams and tests at every age, the breakdown of the comprehensive system, the government’s refusal to allocate resources to educating underprivileged children, creeping privatisation and poor pay.
The extraordinary array of national curriculum tests now in place (Key Stage 1 SATs at ages 6-7, KS2 SATs at ages 10-11, KS3 SATs at ages 13-14, and GCSEs at ages 15-16) are a source of great anxiety for children and teachers alike, and are an area of education that the majority of teachers are particularly unhappy about.
Study after study shows that excessive testing has a detrimental effect on children’s learning and is a significant demotivating factor for kids who do not perform well. However, this government has ruthlessly pursued the assessment agenda.
The hidden motive here can be easily deduced from the state’s overall education policy, which is to channel maximum resources to the middle class and a few bright working-class kids that the bourgeoisie feels will be useful in the attainment of profit, whilst neglecting the bulk of the working class (the logic being that, with British manufacture in freefall, there are going to be very few job opportunities for the workers, and those jobs there are will not require much in the way of education; therefore, to educate the workers would only be to help them on the road towards radical resistance to capitalism).
Standard Attainment Tests at ages 6-7 and 10-11 exist to help the bourgeoisie ‘separate the wheat from the chaff’ at an early age, so they don’t waste money creating a class of literate unemployed.
Possible teachers’ strike
The NUT is considering a campaign of industrial action in the light of the government’s announcement of a pay rise of 2.45 percent for teachers. Although higher than many had predicted, 2.45 percent is still significantly lower than the NUT’s demands of an increase at or above the Retail Price Index, which is currently rising at 4.3 percent.
Said NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott: “Teachers have to pay increases in the cost of housing, fuel and food. This settlement is in effect a pay cut.” The NUT Executive is due to meet in the next few days to discuss how to proceed. (‘Teachers given pay rise of 2.45%’, BBC News Online, 15 January 2008)