Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Who will clean the universities?

For a brief moment Any Questions had an proper education expert on their panel. But a week later, Christine's gone; we're back to a load of politicos, and the abyss opens again. As ever, and as follows, I wrote in:

I had just warmed to Henry Bonsu after his comments about society's grooming of young people, when he broke into the wildest of generalisations over schooling. 

Education has become an industry, and in order for the education companies to make money, they need to have enough things to fix. And sadly there seems any number of people ready and willing to put the whole system down. 

Two points:

1. Most pannellists talked as if university itself was the goal, and an end in itself. Vince Cable told us he has appointed an "access regulator" to ensure that the poorest children can access "top universities". [True, the government has just introduced the "pupil premium", but not mentioned, it has replaced a slightly fairer system of getting money to the poorest children].

Social mobility seems to involve ripping children away from their families and their home neighbourhoods. For what purpose? Better a contented cleaner than a miserable [and quite possibly unemployed] graduate.

One of the cleaners where I work told me that her Careers teacher told her she'd be nothing more than a cleaner. Well, let me tell you: Lorraine cleans the West Park Centre efficiently and cheerfully and makes me feel good whenever we pass each other on the corridors. 

2. Someone said we need more free schools and academies. For what purpose? They will be the same students and the same pool of teachers and school staff. But all slightly re-arranged, just enough for children to be wrong-footed, and not know who to turn to for help. 

Henry Bonsu had a snidey little aside about teachers who should be "not trying to be mates". What does he know? One of the first things you learn as a new teacher is that you are not there to be their friend. The relationship between teacher and student is a delicate balance of power. The teacher is in charge and the student has to trust them. That can take years to establish, and it can then run in families. Changing schools around destroys the balances and the relationships.

Education is more than the shovelling down of facts. It is, or it should be drawing out of the child what they will need to live a full life, both at and after schooling. And it may not involve going anywhere near a university, except perhaps to clean it.

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