Monday, 23 March 2009

Education, Education, Education

I suspect that it may be another 13 months or so before the British public will be able to pass judgement on Gordon Brown’s premiership. However, the welcomed news that Ken Clarke has today pledged that a Tory government would raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1 million is a reminder that it’s never too early to start electioneering.

The mantra of “Education, Education, Education”, that so convincingly swept New Labour to power in 1997 is a totally commendable one. I believe that the same mantra is now even more necessary in the next general election. While education remains the corner stone of any civilised culture, its importance in the next election is enhanced by the need to put right the misguided education policies of the current government.

In the past my vote has be a foregone conclusion based on my political affiliations with one particular party. These days however, I’m more fickle; my allegiances lie with my principles rather than any preselected political party. Therefore, adoption of the following three education policies into any parties manifesto will make a difference to my vote, and I suspect a large number of like minded people too.

1. Abolition of Faith Schools

Stephen Law gave a very good analogy in his “Thought for the world” which I shall attempt to quickly paraphrase:

Imagine a country where the state supports the sponsorship of schools based on allegiances to particular political parties. Children of Labour parents may elect to send their children to “Labour Schools” where they are schooled with the policies, principles and history of that party. Portraits of eminent parliamentarians of that party line the walls and they gather at morning assemblies to sing political songs and be indoctrinated in to the one true political party.

With the above example it’s easy to see how abhorrent it is to segregate children’s education by random factors such as parental political affiliations or indeed ethnicity. Faith schools indoctrinating children into the arbitrary faiths of their parents are no different.

Tony Blair justifies his support and sponsorship of faith based schools with the excuse of “Diversity”. This justification would hold equally for the opening of Fascist and Communists schools to add diversity to the pre-existing politically affiliated schools in the example above. Blair’s policy of diversity merely promotes separation of beliefs, cultures and races; it provides a free pass to allow for the teaching of dangerous misinformation and breeds contempt and in extreme cases fans the fires of hatred.

Clearly giving children a grounding and understanding in the history and beliefs of all major religions in a non-bias way is a better option. If they then choose to pursue any one particular religion as an extra curriculum activity then that would be their own choice and perfectly reasonable.

I’m obviously not advocating the closure of faith schools merely merging them into the national curriculum by dropping their particular creed in favour of a more rounded religious education and a nationally agreed science syllabus.

2. Abolition of University Tuition Fees

When I went to University 20 years ago as a “mature” student, I had long since left home and become self-sufficient. I was however fortunate enough to still be able to leave my job and go back to full time education to get my degree thanks to no tuition fees and a LEA grant. If I were in the same situation today, the option of going to University for me would have been completely out of the question.

My children may be lucky enough that I will, in all likelihood, be in a financial position to support them through University, should they have the ability and desire to do so, but many more may not be so lucky. I believe that any society that wishes to advance must provide University education free of charge to those with the academic ability to benefit from it, regardless of their background.

3. Promotion of Science Education

The lack of government support for science education over many years has left us in an unenviable situation where science is ill understood in the public and frequently portrayed in a negative light. We are now at the point where we lack enough qualified science teachers, and interest amongst students is alarmingly low. Many schools even offer science as one combined subject, a regression from 30 years ago when I was at least able to study Physics, Biology and Chemistry as separate subjects at secondary school.

I know a number of recent government initiatives have recognised this shortfall and some tentative policies have been suggested to address this issue. I don’t want to sound like a member of the opposition by simply claiming it’s all too little, too late, but I would welcome some original policies on solving this problem.


And if you’re scrabbling around for some more polices to add to your manifesto to fully secure my vote, why not eject the Bishops from the House of Lords.
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