“It is far easier to channel the blame at private schools. All kids have aspiration; it’s about channelling it effectively”
The above is a “tweet” that I sent someone whilst watching “Who Gets The Best Jobs?” on BBC2 a few weeks ago.
Too long have our political leaders placed the blame of a lack of social mobility on “easy” targets, such as private schools, recruitment by big business, university admissions, and dealt with it through schemes such as Aim Higher, which don’t deal with the heart of the problem. Throwing money at a problem won’t necessarily solve it.
Have you met a child who doesn’t have an aspiration when they are young to be “something?” What then happens to this, as the child grows up, their aspirations change, either down or up? Is it the fault of the education they are receiving, the families and people they are surrounded by (i.e. their social class) factors that we never talk about in this debate or is it how we deal with it? Is it because they know they can’t afford to do an unpaid internship in London?
The “totally different factors” are being ignored, yet they shouldn’t be. When did we last talk seriously about the quality of housing in a debate about which kids get into the best universities, or get the best jobs? If you live in a house that’s overcrowded you’re less likely to be able to do your homework effectively or get a good sleep; if you live in a house that is badly heated and damp, then you are far more likely to suffer from health problems that will hold you back. An article in the Guardian recently (unfortunately I can’t find the link) made the point that poor housing conditions contribute to mental health difficulties. Again, not good for aspiration or social mobility.
Despite this, and despite my new found interest in how housing shapes lives in more ways than we think, I still believe that education is at the heart of the social mobility programme. Whilst Labour tried to address social mobility through schemes such as Sure Start (which I totally support) they did too little too late in terms of creating an education system and curriculum that meets the aspirations of our children and equips them for an increasingly competitive world.
What is needed is education that, from the very start, encourages children to challenge themselves at every point, and look at what skills it is they need. If you’ve read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman, he talks about how Chinese and Indian children are equipping themselves with language and sophisticated technology skills as their governments know that is what they will need to reap the benefits of globalisation and to lift them out of poverty. Why aren’t we looking the skills we need to get ahead in the world? If you haven’t read it, then I suggest that you do. Sadly, Gove’s education reforms don’t seem to be looking to tackle this, instead reverting to the obsession with facts, figures and exams being the be all and end all of education.
Of course unpaid internships, the quality of education at private schools, admissions to the best universities and cherry picking by top firms doesn’t help, and they need to be addressed. But we need to be encouraging children to take responsibility for themselves, whilst, as a state, equipping them with the tools that they need through the education system, to truly excel, meet their aspirations and be able to what they believe they can do.
Essentially, we need to stop blaming private education, university places and fees, and schemes that throw money at a symptom not a problem and look at ourselves, our strengths and our failings before we can really tackle social mobility.