Education, Education, Education became the mantra of the New Labour age, when Tony Blair famously described his three main priorities for government. David Cameron too, has declared his aim of making the teaching profession unashamedly elitist once more. While both these statements make impressive soundbites, they do however continue to ignore a fundamental problem; one which encapsulates what is wrong with so much of our state school system; namely the vested interests of a particularly unholy alliance; Whitehall bureaucrats, local education officials and teaching unions.
It is no co-incidence that those schools that often thrive best in any sector, are those where the influence of central government and local authorities is minimal. In particular, voluntary aided faith schools and those academies that so far have retained their independence, despite the efforts of Ed Balls and his LEA co-conspirators. At the start of this year, Ofsted – was there ever a more superfluous organisation – announced new inspection rules that will effectively fail schools if they are not seen to actively promote race relations, gender equality and human rights. For many parents – and employers – our state education system now seems more interested in political correctness, where individual thought and ability are sacrificed on the alter of fairness and equality; rather than ensuring our kids can read, write and count properly.
In recent months many business leaders including Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy and CBI director-general Richard Lambert, have castigated the state education system for “academic underachievement among schoolchildren”. I have to confess some degree of sympathy with this view. Over the years, I have been employed in various managerial roles that required reading and checking of application forms, daily reports and other hand written material, and which for the most part, contained appalling standards of legibility, accuracy, punctuation and use of grammar.
A state education system, which has effectively promoted a culture of low aspiration allied with general government incompetence, has now resulted in at least two generations of educational failure since the last Tory government passed it’s so called Education Reform Act in 1988.
The future of our country depends on it’s ability to continue to turn out the scientists, skilled craftsmen and engineers that we need, if we are to continue to remain one of the worlds major economies. Our major international competitors are already reaping the benefits of a world class educational system – many ironically modelled on one we used to have. Until and unless, the next government corrects this situation, they will condemn yet another generation of kids to a life of benefits or dreary dead-end jobs, vacuous soap operas and mind numbing computer games, with the resulting knock-on effect to our economic competitiveness. The story of our state education system over the past twenty years, can be characterised as one of constant meddling by both Conservative and Labour governments. This has resulted in the single most important method of advancement becoming a political football, used by both the left and the right, and those with their own self-interests at heart.
By all means teach respect for others and to recognise the diversity and equality in our society today, but the future of this country cannot be built on the alter of political correctness: our international competitors will simply smile as they leave us further behind.