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Year 2008 No. 31, March 4, 2008 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Raising the Question of Education

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Raising the Question of Education

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Raising the Question of Education

The Primary Review, an independent on-going enquiry into the condition and future of primary education in England, published a group of four reports on February 29. The reports covered the policy frameworks for English primary education specified as governance, funding, reform and quality assurance. The reports are set in the context of the 11-year period since New Labour came to power with the slogan beloved by Tony Blair, “education, education, education”. The reports assess over 200 published sources of evidence on the matters under review, both official and independent. The reports respectively, in the words of Primary Review: set out the financial framework and funding trends for English primary schooling, comparing primary with secondary and England with other OECD countries; chart the evolution and impact of the current mix of increased school autonomy and closer central direction; take a long historical look at school inspection from HMI to Ofsted; and outline major reforms since 1988 bearing on curriculum, assessment and teaching. Primary Review says, “Between them, these reports raise important questions about accountability, culpability and justice in the apportioning of responsibility for what goes on in the nation’s primary schools.”

            The reports do not indicate a government whose record warrants following the priorities of “education, education and education”. Rather they show primary education in decline, and even at primary level, a government demonstrating a “state theory of learning” with central control in key areas of educational action.

First of all, what can be said to characterise the decline in education – what Primary Review refers to as “a decrease in the overall quality of primary education ... because of the narrowing of the curriculum and the intensity of test preparation” – and what is its significance? Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, commented: "The latest Primary Review reports demonstrate the damaging effects of high stakes testing, inspection and historic under funding on primary schools.”

            The attacks on primary education noted by Steve Sinnott are reflected across the whole education system right up to higher education and are an integral part of the government's anti-social offensive. It is possible to characterise basic elements of this offensive in the sphere of education as follows:

·         ideological orientation - this turns on the issue of what education is for, what is its role in society. The government's answer clearly is "to contribute to making business competitive in the global market". Therefore arrangements are put in place to give big business a greater say in the content of education. Schools and colleges are linked to businesses and it is made explicit to them that one of their key tasks is to serve the needs of business and build appropriate links with local business to facilitate this.

·         ideological content - not surprisingly, there is enormous pressure to transform education into an arena for indoctrinating young people with capital-centred views of the world e.g. successful business people create wealth; the purpose of life is to be wealthy; human beings are primarily consumers not producers, etc. In addition, given the country's history, education is pressured to uphold the old consciousness of imperialist chauvinism and racism

·         implementing the anti-social offensive - this turns on the rejection of the idea that education is a right and it is the responsibility of the state to provide for all its citizens at the highest level. Thus there is chronic underfunding of all sectors, which generate various problems and difficulties. These in turn are blamed on the workers in the sector e.g. teachers through the Ofsted inspection regime, league tables, taking over of “failing schools” and so on. The impact of this process on teachers is debilitating. Lack of adequate funding leads to unmanageable workloads for educators who are then held individually accountable through the inspection regime for any organisational weaknesses. This leads to patterns of burnout and nervous breakdowns and stress-related illnesses which are widespread in education

·         paying the rich - the opening up of education as a field of profiteering for the monopolies on the justification that the existing educational institutions are failing. This has led to the opening of academies, the building of schools through PFI projects, and the introduction of “contestability” in the post-16 sector. This programme of, for example, putting post-16 educational provision out to tender for all-comers, including private companies, is similar to the developments in health care also.

             Through the national curriculum that was introduced in 1988, the heavy testing introduced by New Labour after it came to power in 1997, and the narrowing of the range of teaching methods, the education system has become a vehicle for the interference of a state with ulterior motives. The heavy-handed approach of the government has been done under the signboard of standards, or “quality assurance”. But there is considerable and widespread unease about the toll on teachers and the quality of education itself that is resulting in open distrust between teachers, parents and a government which is dictating the terms and standards. What is being encouraged is the ethos that the advancement of the individual child is paramount, as measured by questionable testing, and that “poor teachers” must be weeded out, rather than focusing on the overall raising of standards, a relation of trust between parents and teachers, and the emphasis on all-round education for the good of society. This is leading many professionals and parents to raise the question: what is the interest of the government in meddling and micromanaging classrooms?

            That there is a marked “distortion of the curriculum”, for instance through “narrowly-focused inspection”, is something that the Primary Review reports point out. What can be said is that the education system has become an avenue for the government to indoctrinate the children of Britain from a young age with “British values” and start them on the road to becoming citizens who will stay within the confines of the status quo, either aspiring to the capitalist ruling class leading them to “success” or becoming a “failure” at the mercy of governments attacks.

            The national curriculum and the overwhelming presence of testing can be seen as leading to the inculcation of a view of history and culture permeating throughout all subjects and having as its content the ideology and outlook of the ruling elite as codified by the priorities of New Labour. It can be said to be a design for living that is being perpetuated in schools, aiming to ensure the survival of the decaying monopoly controlled system.

            In a climate in which the people are facing the anti-social offensive, where the people are being attacked on all fonts, it is clear that the future of education cannot reside in this decaying monopoly-controlled system that aims to repress critical thinking and to encourage the fetish of competition.

            A society should serve and provide for its members. Rather than reflecting the incoherence and dehumanisation of a system which neither serves the youth nor the future of society, education as a social necessity should provide for intellectual growth and social responsibility. So far from the aim of the government is this, which the Primary Review reports reflect, that it is absolutely necessary to insist on the principle that education is a right. “Decline” is not to be found in individual failings, but in the tailoring of education to the needs of the ruling elite on the one hand, and on the other to the refusal of New Labour to take up the path of increasing investments in education and other social programmes.

            In fighting for the reversal of this trend and for a modern education system and policy, parents and professionals alike, and indeed the youth themselves, are coming to the conclusion that the issue is not how pupils must be scrutinised as to how they fit the mould, but to provide the human and material resources and the outlook of rejecting dogma and embracing education in the true sense of the word. As much as anything, it is the recognition of teachers as much valued members of the society, who must be respected and not hounded, honoured and not disparaged.

            WDIE calls on the working class and people to fight against the anti-social offensive, demanding that teachers and pupils must be able to partake in education in a decent environment and conditions. No to state-dictated ideology! Education is a right! Increase investments in social programmes!

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