Education: "Is our children learning?"

Rarely is the question asked, “is our children learning?”

–George W. Bush, 2000

Last week on The Big Picture*, Simon produced a special report on the state of the education system. The panel all seemed to agree that there wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the current state system, going as far as to argue that there was a relatively even distribution of both state and independent schools throughout the league tables.

The panel don’t seem to be alone; a recent Populus poll for The Times (9th Feb 2010) asked people to rate their perception of public services on a scale of 0 – 10, and the modal average was 7.

This raises two puzzling questions: firstly, why are the Tories focusing on education as the target of their policy announcements, and why would anyone call for “positive discrimination”?

The Conservatives have been calling for reform of education with a focus on more traditional subjects like history, and have proposed radical changes allowing parents to have more influence. Their draft manifesto lists various policies for achieving this and granting more independence in what they call a post-bureaucratic age, but the true reason is found in the opening blurb:

the success of our plan to mend Britain’s broken society depends less on the actions that a Conservative government will take to give people more power and more on society’s response [emphasis added]

Despite the apparently positive view of education that the Populus poll indicates, the same poll found that 70% believe society in Britain is broken. The question is how to fix it, and the Conservatives have, rightly or wrongly, targeted education.

As for the private and state sectors, it can only be presumed that there is a perception of a gap between the two. Otherwise, the only reasoning for calls for “positive discrimination” is covert class war – something few parties are willing to openly advocate. Perhaps this argument may see such calls silenced over the course of the election, particularly if Labour are to claim that the state sector is now the equal of independent schools.

Is education reform needed, have the Tories misdiagnosed a “broken Britain”, or is this all myth?

*Shameless plug alert! Rob presents The Big Picture.