Second world war references are hard to avoid in the context of Brexit, so here’s one that actually has something constructive to offer. When Britain was facing the horror of Stalingrad, the second battle of El Alamein and the challenge of the Normandy landings, it was also undertaking wholesale reform of the education system. The Guardian reports.
The mass evacuation of children from British cities to rural areas laid bare the abysmal lack of education many had received. The government response was the 1944 Education Act, which established what we now call state-maintained comprehensive schools and free, compulsory education to the age of 15. Free, as in not requiring parental fees. It was a change the then education minister, Rab Butler, would describe in the House of Commons as characterised by “dignity”; but 75 years later, under cover of Brexit, this basic pillar of our postwar order is being quietly eroded, with “free” schools asking parents if they can make a contribution to help meet the chronic funding shortfall they are facing. Money for the “little extras”, as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, in his recent budget, described the luxuries our pampered snowflakes enjoy these days – things like toilet paper, textbooks and stationery.
The penny dropped for me when I realised just how much schools are depending on these parental contributions.
And now the tone is beginning to change. The polite requests have, in some cases, morphed into the firm instructions more commonly associated with debt collection. One letter I’ve seen demands parents make a payment of £12.50 a month for each pupil, or a one-off payment of £150 a year. Bold and underlined type are employed to emphasise the point. A failure to respond prompts a follow-up failure to pay letter. The request is justified by the assertion that other schools demand £50 a month, so this is in fact a bargain.
Here’s a conundrum. How does a school that struggles to pay for textbooks meet the increasing pressure to demonstrate high performance? Ofsted, the schools regulator, acknowledged last month that schools were limiting their curriculum to focus on end-of-year tests. A primary school teaching assistant I spoke to recently told me about children learning nothing but maths and English in their final year. The children who had no hope of passing were siphoned off into a dud class so that the higher performers could get on with providing the school’s required performance data uninhibited.
We argue endlessly about grammar schools, which back in 1944 were about focusing a superlative academic experience on those perceived to be more able. But the desperate financial situation facing comprehensive schools has made this intellectual segregation a reality. A school that cannot afford loo roll is not going to be able to offer stimulating outings and cultural experiences to all.
I doubt any trips are on the level of Eton’s, some of whose pupils went off to meet President Putin on a red carpet trip to the Kremlin. The gap between state school pupils and those at the most elite private schools – we in Britain have the biggest such gap of any country in the world – blasts all other inequality out of the water.
Read the full article Free education is disappearing before our eyes
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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