Education is important for us all, always, not just during a pandemic
Education is important for us all, always, not just during a pandemic

Equally as negligent are the leaders of the opposition party who have kept a clear distance in support of education unions.

While schools have been the main focus, those who work and study in further education colleges and universities have also had similar problems facing demands from managers and politicians that too often have been intransigent.

This crisis has shone a light on the weakness of our education system and in Liverpool City Region we suffer from this disproportionately.

Here in our region, we are constantly told that the educational performance of our people is one of the main reasons why we remain poor.

Our comparatively low level of educational attainment – the argument goes – is a main reason why the quality of our jobs and therefore the pay, is less than in other places.

As we can see in Figure 1, we have more people with no qualifications and less with the highest qualifications compared to the rest of Britain.

Figure 1 Qualifications in LCR 2019 (source: Nomis)

This has the effect of placing the responsibility for the persistence of poverty in the city region on people who live here and removes attention from the structures that create the inequalities in the first place.

The answer, we are told, is more of the same education – or to be precise, more of the same system of education that has failed the very people held to be responsible for low educational attainment.

What we need is an accountable education system that works first and foremost for the people of our city region.

Over the last four decades, education has been removed from local democratic accountability and replaced by quango-style regulation under the auspice of central government.

This has been further complicated by devolved administration in the four UK nations. Many schools are now academy trusts, colleges are corporations and universities operate as if they are private, market-led organisations.

In each, their charitable legal form has failed to provide the levels of accountability that would mean education is provided and prioritised for the development of students and pupils.

One of the reasons why democratic accountability is so important is because of the relationship between parental wealth and the educational attainment of the child.

A simple example of this is the ability to live in an area that has high performing state schools, where house prices are high. There is additionally, the means of those who are more wealthy to supplement the child’s education with private tutoring, or even private schools.

The impact of level of parental wealth has also been in the news during the pandemic. It has shown how a clear disadvantage exists for those children who are unable to learn remotely because the resource base of their parents is less, and they are less able to provide their children with a laptop, source of internet connection, or space to study.

Universities operate as if they are private, market-led organisations

The advantages of parental wealth will follow the child through her or his educational journey during their life. For instance, research has shown parental wealth to have a positive effect on degree level attainment of those in university (Hills et al, 2013). It is a circular movement: wealth means better education, which means more wealth.

This is why, when you hear politicians shouting about the need for ‘more education’ the question has to be what sort of education and for whom?

Yes, we need more education although that education has to serve people who are less well off, not reinforce the advantages of those with plenty. We need policies that cover each part of our education system to overcome this circular disadvantage.

Across all schools, we need higher quality buildings and better ventilation systems and we should demand a more effective staff-pupil ratio. Infant and junior schools need smaller class sizes and the anxiety induced early testing needs to be ended.

Secondary level education is dominated by exams, which marginalises student’s own creativity and lessens their ability to think critically. Overall the curriculum must be decolonised, recognise diversity and working class achievement.

Vocational education needs to be seen equally as important as higher education and colleges need to be resourced to achieve this. University education needs to develop the critical thinking of students further and not be seen as a finishing school for employers who fail to invest in training their graduates.

Only a democratic, accountable, public education system that works from infant age onwards, one that includes vocational and higher education, can provide the basis for overcoming inequality including that which we see in our own city region.

Education needs to be of high quality for our children and to do this it needs to be reaffirmed as a public good, free at the point of use.

References

Hills, J., Bastagli, F., Cowell, F., Glennerster, H., Karagiannaki, E. and McKnight, A. (2013) Wealth in the UK: Distribution, Accumulation and Policy, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Beacon is a non-party platform to further the cause of socialism in Liverpool and the wider City Region.