Education – still failing us?

John Pounds, founder of the Ragged Schools

John Pounds, founder of the Ragged Schools

In 1867 a Royal Commission investigated every school in England. The inspectors looked at every school, from root and branch. Teachers were interviewed, classes observed, neighbourhoods examined and standards assessed. This was the first real national audit of education in the country, an early OFSTED.

Three years later, these findings led to the Education Act in 1870. This was the first major attempt to introduce national standards for Education. Prior to 1870, teaching was almost completely in the hands of national authorities. Education for the poor for centuries was haphazard. The privileged would pay to send their children to school, and the poor would more than likely send theirs to work. Early efforts to educate poor children came in the form of Ragged Schools, one of the first begun by John Pounds in Portsmouth

Countless Education Acts have followed since 1870. But, over 130 years after the first Education Act, why is our Education system still getting it so wrong?

It does seem pretty much to be a systemic problem, rather than through any failings of particular teachers or schools. Governments throw money at the problem, but this week an influential report suggested the scrapping of SAT’s and not commencing formal teaching until the age of 6. In my experience plenty of money is wasted on projects, advisers, and strangely-named departments that add little to what goes on in schools, but drains the Education Budget. The national curriculum certainly does not help matters. Neither do the SATS, which are to test schools and teachers rather than children, but the schools and teachers pass the stress onto the children over something which has not real consequence on their education.

Ministers will point to the ever-improving exam results. We should not be fooled by these, they improve every year, which suggests that the pass-marks are adjusted every year to give politically motivated results. In real terms, the quality of Education has fallen, but to counter this the expectations are lower. Essentially, this is cooking the books.

Sadly, elitism is also still alive and well in this country. Being able to put certain schools or universities on your CV is almost better than having a first class with honours degree from a not so good University. Why should it matter where you went to school? Surely it is more impressive to have gone to a supposedly average school but to have done well? Two-tier education, based on class and not ability, creates barriers for able children.

We should not pillory certain schools as failing, just because their catchment area includes children from difficult backgrounds. They have their work cut out, and they are not miracle workers. The problems go far beyond Education, and have more to do with families and influences in broader life.

Priorities are fundamentally wrong. It seems to be a Governmental Policy to get as many school leavers to go into Higher Education as possible. But is this right? We are chronically short of plumbers, electricians, gas fitters. Many of the people who would have done these jobs are now going to study Media Studies, Sports Sciences or Psychology, because they can rather than because they want to. And then leaving university and finding themselves out of work, while we rely on foreign nationals to do these jobs. But Higher Education has become a business. The Universities can name their price, and a high price it is. Yet their income is largely spent on nice new buildings, and not students. If there were fewer students, there would be more funding to go round for those who want to work.

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Filed under Local History, politics, social history

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