Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
In life, the best chance at equal opportunity is arguably through education. Education reform and re-evaluation has never been more crucial, particularly considering the current outrage regarding the way that exam results have been awarded this year. The Scottish Qualifications Authority’s moderation of exam results has meant that those from the most deprived backgrounds have received vastly lower grades than their teachers’ predictions; the same is anticipated with the upcoming A Level and GSCE results. These results are predicted to be just as wrongfully discriminatory, and thus highlights how our education is preventing equal opportunity, rather than furthering it.
Could this lockdown give us an opportunity to re-examine our school system? The role that education plays is paramount to the shaping and forming of the next generation. In this way, education is inherently politicised, different people suggest different methods based on their world views. This means education is used as another political battleground, using children’s education to nurture political beliefs.
Covid-19, moreover, has suggested a wane in the public’s “dislike” of experts due to daily press briefings where the medical experts appeared as the figures of sense. Although arguably expert figures like Chris Whitty have been politicised, he continues to argue on the basis on science rather than restricted by the whip.
The current system of government and the role that nepotism extremifies the politicisation, leaving the person in charge of education pursuing a path based on politics, rather than facts and expertise. The Prime Minister picks their companions to join their cabinet and do jobs that they might not really be qualified for. Education must be handled by experts, with experience in education.
This system also means that because the person in charge can change so often, areas as important as education, often are unable to really be worked on. Rory Stewart an ex-Conservative MP, in his time under Theresa May, in the cabinet (2017-19), was moved to four different positions, meaning he was prevented from making any real progress in one area.
Thus, there are two major issues – the people who get the job may not be qualified, and then even when they are in it, they are unable to make any significant or lasting change. This was particularly the case in the period 2015-19, which saw three general elections, three Prime Ministers and several cabinet reshuffles. The country’s political instability should not reverberate into children’s education. COVID-19 has clearly demonstrated how damaging disturbance to education can be, especially when those controlling it are motivated by politics, rather than having expertise in education, as with the Scottish results.
Due to the disruption that has often been caused by political turmoil and issues, education has been left behind, and has not been modernised to prepare the next generation for entering the “real world”. The world, particularly in the last ten years – perhaps since the global financial crisis of 2008, has changed so fundamentally, that education should focus on preparing the child for the world they will enter when they leave – and this is made difficult when the education system only prepares children to pass exams, rather than teaching them transferable skills for jobs after education.
Change to the education system is so vitally needed, but at the moment, under the current system, this is unable to happen with any long-term lasting effects. The system is being guided under political allies of the Prime Minister, who may have little to no experience in what it is like to run a school and have themselves been out of schools for decades. Perhaps it is time to move leadership of departments like education from within the political party’s control, and instead have depoliticized experts who have experience in education, helping to plan for the long term, rather than just until the next cabinet reshuffle.