The education system in Wessex is broken, the result of 150 years or more of central government tinkering driven mostly by a desire to maintain the state religion and an “us and them” divide which continuously tops up the elite group while providing the rest of the population with what is seen from above as the type of education required to keep industry fed with an exploitable labour resource. In recent decades the role of the state in providing mainstream education has been massively diminished in order to make education part of the consumer market.
The general public have been coerced into believing the new schools market has given them choice. But choice is illusory. In Bristol, the largest city in Wessex, the overall rate of pupils gaining 5 or more good GCSEs is well below the UK average (39% cf 44% for England).
Education should equip the young (and others) not for another worthless job but for a life well-lived. It should enable them to demand and to build a society in which all jobs are worthwhile and to make satisfying use of their non-work time. Everyone needs the basic skills of literacy and numeracy, but we also need to develop people’s imaginative, practical and social abilities. The economy of the future, where people should come before production, will need rounded, feeling individuals, not trained robots.
No-one should feel doomed to fail. And no school should be allowed to fail. In the race towards achievement, not everyone is starting from the same place but a true meritocracy requires that, as far as practicable, everyone should have an equal opportunity to fulfil their ambitions. Different models for delivering education may help produce better forms more related to individual pupils needs and abilities.
Education should be open to all in the community regardless of wealth, race, religion or identity.
Educational opportunities should exist throughout life. They should also be more equal. For this, society itself has to be more equal. The gap in educational attainment reflects the gap between the advantaged and the disadvantaged. This vicious circle of entrapment in poverty for generations in one community has to be broken.
Sadly, there is a massive gap in the educational outcomes for millions of young people. This inevitably limits their chances of ever breaking out of the cycle of deprivation that haunts many communities. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that for children from disadvantaged backgrounds there was a gap in attainments of 20% by Key Stage 2 (age 11) widening to 27% by GCSE stage (age 16) to 27%.
Educational inequalities mirror social inequalities. Unless the background social inequality is resolved then education by itself will never fill the gap: the reality remains ‘who you know, not what you know’.
If current trends continue, educational apartheid is a real possibility in larger cities but we shouldn’t forget the special and longstanding problems of rural areas, which are a major concern of a party devoted to the needs of the whole of Wessex.
Societies with the best results (e.g. Finland – there is much we should learn from Finland.) have smaller gaps between the haves and the-have-nots. Societies with the highest educational outcomes treat teachers with respect and encourage them to continuously improve.
To fix the gap in educational achievement will also require a massive effort in parallel to fix the wealth gap. These twin issues will be at the centre of WR social policies.
It may seem that schooling stands at the crossroads between a wholly libertarian approach – individualist and putting parental choice first – and a wholly communitarian approach – children learning together with all those around them with whom they will live and work. Both approaches are heavily driven by the providers of education, whose claims to serve the public interest need continuous scrutiny. For over 200 years, schools have been a means to pursue religious, political or pedagogical agendas that do not necessarily match what consumers want. Provision has for too long been used as the vehicle to ensure the maintenance of the class system. ‘Choice’ is often illusory and easily exploited for the providers’ benefit or the benefit of their backers. It’s also environmentally harmful, as parents drive children miles to take them to the school of their choice while passing others going in the opposite direction.
Our primary sympathy is communitarian and territorial. Schools are an essential part of community-building: the more that local children share the same educational experiences the stronger the community will be. This would not however rule out specialist schools, for example, separate schools for those with special needs are sometimes the best solution, justifiable on strictly educational grounds.
In a fully communitarian system no child could be excluded from education.
Beyond mainstream education, parents may desire specific extra education for which they’re willing to pay extra. This may be because they identify with more than just a strict territorial community e.g. on religious or cultural grounds. Parents should continue to be free to send their children to such providers for non-mainstream additional lessons. Other extracurricular activities would continue to be available on a fee basis such as music lessons, dance lessons, additional or specialist sports activities, etc. What cannot be right is that taxpayers should be required to subsidise those choices in any way although local communities may wish to raise funds to provide these activities within their area.
We recognise that many different types of school, including home schooling, may exist in a truly decentralised education system. We would expect to see different approaches to schooling but always at the behest of the community and the parents involved. However, all mainstream schooling should be free at the point of delivery.
Wessex Regionalists believe that access to good health care and good education are a fundamental right of all citizens in a developed nation; these services should be entirely publicly funded and delivered free at the point of access.
Short Term – campaigning within the UK – Wessex Regionalists will campaign to ensure that:
- education is seen as part of building better, more cohesive communities, growing out of inclusive schools at their heart; schools that cherish all and are cherished by all. Recognising the primacy of individual and communal autonomy, fully inclusive schools are a Party aim
- as the norm school facilities are made available for dual use by the school and, out of hours, the wider community
- the emphasis in education is community focused.
Long Term – in a fully devolved region – Wessex Regionalists will:
- make all education free at the point of access; ban the charging of fees for mainstream education – this is not a commodity that can be bought and sold – it is a fundamental right for all children.
- make all education community-based wherever possible.
- enable parishes, or groups of parishes, to run primary schools, with hundreds, or groups of hundreds working in co-operation, operating secondary schools and further education colleges.
- provide specialist services at county or equivalent level if not viable at any narrower level.
- take the politics of the market out of school provision and restore parents’ role in the running of their schools.
- not allow any school to fail; the poorest performing schools would get the greatest support.
- withdraw all public funding for private and faith schools because of their potential to divide communities on class and religious/ethnic lines.
- support local campaigns against proposed new faith schools, as well as to make existing ones more inclusive.
- scrap a national or regional curriculum leaving schools and communities to organise their schools around the needs of their communities; even the UK Governments Education Select Committee has recently highlighted “the benefits of celebrating greater diversity of subjects in the pre-16 curriculum” (recommendation 35)
- learn from education systems in those countries which appear to have better educational outcomes; this might possibly include considering splitting education provision into i) primary schools for pupils aged 1 to 7 based in existing village and local primary schools; ii) all-through education for 7 to 16 years of age students; ii) tertiary schools separately offering academic or vocational training, depending on local circumstances.
- encourage different methods of teaching and approaches to teaching which explore the potential benefits of approaches such as Forest and Beach Schools, Phenomenon Based Learning, Agora schooling even allowing traditional and alternative systems to operate side-by-side in the same school, but focused on what serves particular students best.
- bring in and enforce standards on home schooling to ensure pupils are able to be taught safely and in line with the common standards expected of all schools and that they are not being used to evade rules on faith schools, etc.
- abolish tuition fees and restore student grants.
- treat teachers with respect, give them adequate access to continuous training, provide continuous support and reward them accordingly.