Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Is the UK's system of education fit for purpose

How can you ensure you get a good education in the UK? The answer is quite simple actually, make sure you are born to wealthy parents. Last night I had the pleasure of having a curry with my nephew who is a teacher at a local school. He was telling me about how the government curriculum changes will affect the pupils he teaches. The changes are designed to favour children who have a "broader education" and are more aware of issues in the wider world. They are designed to favour students who look beyond the confines of the tight syllabus criteria that the current GCSE exams teach. Sounds great doesn't it? Well it does if young Hartley and Auriana are taken to Tuscany every year, have a cottage in the country where they can play with the ponies and get close to nature and mummy and daddy take them on interesting trips to the science museum and the national gallery.

But what about those kids in sink estates, where mummy and daddy (if both are aound) can't afford this? The system is being heavily skewed in favour of those who have the time and cash to ensure kids get a rounded education. For those who parents are working long shifts for short money, this is not an option. The majority of homes no longer buy newspapers and with the fragmentation of TV stations, many kids have never watched the news, TV being a constant diet of Friends and The Simpsons. The days when you had to watch News at Ten, because there was nothing else to watch have long gone. Nothing would make me happier than the concept that kids in rabbit hutch flats would watch documentaries on the Discovery Channel to bolster their education, but in the real world it just doesn't happen.

The current government has no interest in ensuring that those children at the bottom of the pile are given the opportunity to better themselves. Free Schools are a sop to the affluent middle classes, so that in areas where sink schools do not meet aspirations, there can be small enclaves of middle class safety. Schools that practice selection and cherry pick the best pupils get the straight A's and the plaudits. The real heroes in the education system are those who raise children who were getting nothing into students who pass GCSE's and get some sort of chance in life.

I've run my studio for 36 years now. We've have some families where we are now on the third generation of customers. In general people who play music are by definition atypical members of society, but what is clear to me is that parents who invest in their children see their children do well. We ran a project to get kids into music who'd never had opportunity for a couple of years. Some of the stories we heard were horrific. Even more horrific though was the lack of aspiration. If this isn't being taught at home, then it has to be taught at school. A fair education system will ensure that no matter what the background, if you work hard, you will get the opportunities and you will be given the tools to compete with your peers, regardless of their background.

The sad truth is that the syllabus changes are moving our education system away from this concept. This is bad news for the economy as ultimately it means we spend the money educating thick children from wealthy families, who ultimately don't repay that investment, whilst highly intelligent children from poor families are sidelined. Some will rise above this, but most will simply not have a rich life or contribut to the country in the way they should. Even worse, some will become embittered and use their intelligence in ways that are detrimental to our community, to try and achieve some sort of economic parity.

There is no way that this can be good for the UK. This is why a cabinet stuffed with old Etonians is clearly not fit for purpose. They simply don't get why inequality doesn't work in a modern economy. 

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