Friday, November 02, 2007

Brown on education

Gordon Brown has spoken on education and his speech follows the New Labour formula of posing false dichotomies between simplified notions of left and right. In particular I was annoyed by the following description of a ...

... defeatist left-of-centre assertion that poor children can never overcome their disadvantage at school, it acquiesces in low expectations and it puts up with coasting and failing schools.

Since when has this been a left position? The argument, based on experience, research, and empirical evidence, is that social class fundamentally impacts on the life chances of working class children. To say that this is true is not to accept it. Instead, the left asserted that the facts stood as an indictment of an unjust and unequal society. Of course we should not have second-class schools for second-class citizens; it is utterly intolerable. After all, that was the whole thrust of the debate over comprehensive education. But we also have to tackle the social inequality that is at the heart of educational disadvantage. That was where the left stood and still should stand.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the analysis – simple truth. However, do you not think the two issues – education and life achievement – are linked?

I witnessed the bad old days when teaching colleagues at two large comprehensives (one in the south, the other up north) paid for or fought to get their own children into selective schools and no one wanted to talk about the large white working class minority which left sans a single qualification, or even adequate literacy or numeracy skills. When I raised this at a Labour Party Branch meeting in 1978 I might as well have been caught farting in Habitat. I was rounded on and one Comrade told me "Reading isn't important any more." Long time ago but the shadows are longer. Gordon is right to make standards and expectations in our schools an issue.

The Plump said...


Sounds like you are talking about Old Tossers rather than Old Labour :-)

The point that I would make is, though raising educational institutions' respect for pupils is important, so too is the broader context of economic and social equality.

Anonymous said...

It may be worth noting here that I am the sixth child of parents who were manual workers. I failed my eleven plus by a mile and spent the greater part of my school life in the lowest streams. I am slightly deaf – really deaf gets one noticed – and suffer from a numerical form of dyslexia. I disliked school, played truant in my early days and stayed indoors and read books – any books.

When my parents marriage ended we had to spend a few years in a couple of rooms. Subsequently I got into art school and never looked back as they say, except I never forgot my roots in the working class.

I am rather impatient with middle class comrades work opin about the working class, its experience, aims and aspirations.

The sixties saw some laudable ideas – civic education for one - reduced to the only reason for schooling. The point of education is education: Learning and teaching. Brown is correct to emphaise this.

The Plump said...

The trouble is, if you read the speech, the point of education for Brown is employment and the economy. I find this utterly depressing, because in all other respects I agree with you totally (especially on the issue of 'aspiration raising').