Government policies are turning education into a production line
Classrooms are crumbling and inequality is getting worse, but the government’s priorities are more testing and free schools
The majority of young adults and the parents of young children in the UK did not vote for this government and with good reason. The only age group to swing towards the Conservatives were people aged over 65. Just enough of the affluent elderly were located in just the right places to matter. Never under a democracy have so few wielded so much power over so many.
So, the people who care most about education did not vote for the Tories, with their record of creeping privatisation, high-stakes testing, no new school building, the hiring of unqualified teachers and the raising of tuition fees.
After the election, primary school children in my home town wrote to the prime minister imploring him to allow some spending so they did not have to freeze in their classrooms in winter. In response, the government said it was the council’s responsibility. But it is central government that has cut council budgets, including those to maintain school buildings and heating systems.
This government does not care about schools or children in poor areas. Why should it? Hardly any of its members of parliament represent such areas, or poorer children. So they do not repair damaged schools, or root out inequality, or shore up struggling families for the sake of their children’s future.
Instead, they show what strange priorities they have. Even in hard times, money can be found for their untested educational whims. Some £241m has already been spent setting up free schools in areas where no need for new schools has been forecast. Much more such spending is planned. Think how many school boilers and buildings could be repaired with that money.
Huge amounts are also to be wasted on a few ministers’ pet theories. From September, all children in English state schools will be tested on their “ability” in their first few weeks at school. What a stupid way to start a child’s education – unless you really want to instil a sense of failure from a very early age.
Private companies have bid to carry out the new baseline tests, designed to create the illusion that you can determine a child’s potential future at age four. The tests have been criticised and a call has been made to boycott them.
You cannot with any accuracy predict an individual child’s future. The test scores of thousands of four-year‑olds will severely restrict their future achievement. The least confident, often children growing up in poverty, will be labelled “low ability” and of “limited potential” from the start.
By the time 2020 comes, what sort of state will the schools system be in? The buildings will be even more dilapidated. There will be an over-supply of places where free schools have proliferated.