A recent report by the charity Save the Children shows the stark effects of social class on the educational opportunities of British children. A decent education is increasingly becoming a pipe-dream for the majority of society. Under capitalism, it has always been clear – you only educate “the masses” to the absolute minimum required to run production and make profits.
A recent report by the charity Save the Children shows the stark effects of social class on the educational opportunities of British children.
Using a survey of thousands of parents and the national database of educational attainment, they have demonstrated that children from poorer families are far more likely to lag behind in terms of their academic achievement and fail to catch up throughout their educational life. As the title of their report shows – Too Young to Fail – these trends are evident even at the earliest stage of national testing, at age seven.
As the report says, “In 2012, 13% of all seven-year-olds (or approximately 76,000 pupils) still did not reach the expected level in reading…It is plainly unfair that so many children fall behind before they have even started in life.”
“A seven-year-old from a poor family”, it says, “has their GCSE results all but set. Seven is just the beginning of education but it is almost too late for a fair chance in life for too many children.” The report shows that less than a sixth of those poorer children who are behind at seven will go on to achieve the benchmark five good GCSEs. Of children from poor families, only 27 per cent get five or more good GCSE passes, compared with 5 per cent from better-off families.
“In the UK”, the report continues, “the poorest children do much worse at school on average than their better off classmates. By the time they reach GCSEs, children from poor families do half as well as their better off classmates”.
But this issue is not just restricted to the very poorest in society. It is one that affects all workers facing long-term cuts in their living standards. The long-term effects of austerity are reducing educational opportunities further and further. As the report points out, “People like electricians, plumbers, nurses, midwives, construction workers, who are earning between £17,000 and £30,000 a year – are facing a double pressure of working longer hours and seeing their wages cut or frozen, reducing the number of crucial school trips, music and sports lessons, and family excursions to museums, seen in the poll of parents of young children set out in the report.”
This is a stark indictment of class society, as this income band – of up to £30,000 a year – in fact covers the overwhelming majority of the population, including many professions like the teachersof the children themselves.
The Tories and New Labour are fond of teacher-bashing and blaming teachers for this problem, but, as the Save the Children report points out, the failures of the system are due to the effects of social hardships outside the classroom. “As hard as teachers work to give each child a fair chance,” it says, “the experiences children encounter outside the classroom play an important role.”
When the generalised austerity is added to the increased costs of higher education fees, student loans and the removal of income support in further education (LSA), it shows the deep divide now running through society. The sons and daughters of the wealthy have no trouble getting into the most prestigious universities, whatever their qualifications, and their fees and maintenance costs are easily absorbed by mummy and daddy. But for the big majority, education is increasingly a huge financial millstone or a mirage.
The poor educational provision of the workforce is already having an effect on the economy; according to Save the Children and this will only increase over time. They have calculated that the failure to educate our poorest sections of children has led to a shortfall this year of around £20 billion, equivalent to 1 per cent of GDP. But by 2020, this gap will be around £30 billion. It is clear that Britain is sinking further and further into becoming a low-wage, low-skill economy.
The latest figures from the OECD show that among 16 to 24-year olds, England has fallen to 21st place out of 24 developed countries. It is not surprising, as Save the Children comments, that “almost half of all parents think that it will be harder for their children’s generation to achieve their hopes and ambitions in comparison with past generations.”
It is not that parents don’t care about the importance of education. As the report states: “Parents from all income groups valued reading to their children and saw education as critical. But parents are at the same time pessimistic about the prospects of today’s young children.”
Nothing shows the complete impasse of capitalism more that the fact that for the first time in generations, the younger age groups are less literate than their parents and grandparents. This is echoed in the OECD survey which notes that Britain’s young adults perform worse than their 55 to 65-year old counterparts. “It is the classic problem,” says Professor Chris Husbands, director of the Institute of Education, “…not solved for over 150 years: how do you educate the masses?” For capitalism, of course, the answer has always been clear – you only educate “the masses” to the absolute minimum required to run production and make profits.
But even by that yardstick, British capitalism is now failing. Whereas most employers in Europe see training as an essential part of their employees’ role, a third of British employers make no provision whatsoever for training or continued education. The bosses are on the get-rich-quick gravy train that offers no training or education and therefore has no long term interest in economic development. Such neglect of professional education and training is not due to the morals and values of individual employers and bosses – it is the product of the capitalism system, whose only interest is short-term profits, rather than the development and needs of people and society.
Only with the socialist transformation of society could we guarantee proper life-long education and personal development for all. A socialist economic policy would involve the public ownership of the great banks, industries, utility and service providers to develop an integrated plan for raising productivity and living standards. But such an economic policy would also have to have an education policy at its heart, developing the skills, knowledge and expertise of future generations. Socialists must fight for:
The abolition of private education and the introduction of a fully comprehensive state education system.
The integration of so-called vocational and academic education and the abandonment of the current special “status” for the latter.
Guaranteed jobs for all school, college and university leavers.
All employment to include integrated and on-going training and professional development.
The public ownership of the banks and big business, placed under workers’ control, to provide full employment, life-long education, and personal development for all.