gbsteve (gbsteve) wrote,

Real classy

Apparently the forthcoming election is going to be fought on the education battleground. Or at least that's what Labour seems to want. I think they're rather disappointed by the lack of clear focus of the Tory message. The Tory tactic of guerilla sniping at all possible Labour targets seems to have paid off in the early stages of the phoney war but the incredible gaffe over budgets has at last given Labour something to aim at. Whether this can be dragged out for a full four weeks, whether it might expose the traditional divisions in the Tory facade that we know are there remains to be seen.

I think for once that the campaign is quite interesting and although I'm pretty sure that Labour will win, I think that if the Tories can keep the government unsettled they might make significant gains. At the very least they are showing signs of life which is more than we expected of them six months ago. More than enough to stave off any threat from the Lib Dems.

But back to education. There is a simple (minded) plan to have 50% of school-leavers attend university. This is a significant increase and has not been matched by an equal increase in centralised spending. Instead students are expected to fund themselves through loans and pay their fees (although poorer students will have their fees paid).

Obviously the admission requirements have had to fall as the increase in students going to university has happened so quickly that it cannot have possibly been matched by an increase in the standard of secondary education. At the moment, the most popular degree courses are business and media studies, degrees so lacking in real analytical content that many employers see them as a disincentive to hiring someone. As a result there's a real skills gap in industry in what are seen as the harder subjects such as physics, chemistry and biology which is matched by some universities dropping these subjects from their curriculums. They are not only difficult for students but difficult and expensive to teach.

If you look at entry requirements to the Civil Service for Executive Officers, the most junior management grade it says two 'A' levels but in practice you now need a degree. This indicates to me that a strong devaluation in the worth of a degree that takes three years study on top of 'A' levels, and possibly a strong devaluation in what is taught too.

Now what has this got to do with class? Well, if you look at educational attainment in this country, you'll find that working class kids do less well than middle class kids. We can forget about upper class kids, they're such a small proportion of the population. Some of this is down to the difference in schools and the fact that some middle class families can afford private schooling, and private schooling is much better on average than local authority. But much of it is down to the cultural differences.

Many working class families have very low educational aspirations. The purpose of school is to babysit the children so the parents can work, until the children are able to work themselves. Typically in the working class families betterment is seen to come not through education but through the social network. For boys, you start by getting a Saturday job with your uncle, get further jobs through contacts made this way and eventually start out on your own as a tradesmen. For girls, the aspiration for many is still a family (or pop idol), and this too requires little education but a good social network.

The main message of the education system is that betterment comes through education. Education which defers entry into the job market, incurs large debts and separates kids from their social networks. Is it any wonder that for working class children that it's not biting?

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