Equality of opportunity is about equality of education

I had a discussion with a Tory during the recent election campaign where he tried to summarize our political differences. “I am for equality of opportunity” said he, “whereas socialists are for equality of outcome”.

I disagreed. I am most definitely for equality of opportunity, and nowhere is this more evident than in my attitude to education.

I oppose selective education, I oppose educational apartheid. I oppose anything which does not treat all children equally.

To select on the basis of an unscientific test at eleven years of age is not only to squander the potential of more than two-thirds of children, it is actually about nothing more than elitism. To pretend that it is about giving the brightest children a chance to really stretch their talents ignores the coaching that goes on in order to get some kids past the pass mark.

It also misses a vital part of education that is not about qualifications and facts stored, but about equipping young people for the future. Society is made up of all sorts of people, from various backgrounds, with differing abilities, and attitudes. Children should mix with the good and the bad, the naughty and nice, the smart and not so smart, the fit and the fat, from across faiths, creeds, races, and ideologies. To do otherwise is to ill-equip them.

But it is the inculcating them with the elitist credo that really angers me. Of course children should believe they are special, but they should not look down on others, nor be convinced of their own superiority.

Creating ‘special’ schools, whether that be with entrance exams, or faith-based, or academies, also condemns many kids to an unfit lifestyle and all that brings. The curse of league tables now means that many children travel long distances to go to that ‘better’ school, rather than using shank’s pony and travelling to the nearest.

And this Big Society, this lack of community that is currently exercising politicians, surely means supporting your local educational establishment.

Academies are wrong, wrong, wrong, and for a better reason than I can provide go here.

One Response to Equality of opportunity is about equality of education

  1. Elizannie says:

    This may surprise you Julian, but I am going to agree with you totally!! However to get the equality of education to provide the equality of opportunity is something with which successive Labour governments have struggled for their whole life times.

    As you point out, the 11+ and similar ‘entrance’ exams often extra coaching – paid for or involving family or friends. The same thing happens with exams like GCSEs and A levels. So often such exams do not show the real attainment possibilities of students. It can happen that such students can get offered a university place on the strength of predicted ‘A’ level results [and also taken into account will be which secondary school the student is attending, comprehensive schools getting a lower ‘rating’ than grammars and privately funded education] However the same students can often be seen to be struggling once they are at the university against those from the same ‘passed over’ comprehensives who have had to work much harder to get an ‘offer’. One student from the former type of secondary education was heard to ask a lecturer ‘when do we get the hand- outs’ [i.e. precis of the lectures from which to prepare essays] only to be shocked by the reply along the lines of ‘go to the library and get some books and work from them. The comprehensive school students were already in the library working away. Not predujice – fact!

    Then there is the bias of large companies who will only accept applicants for jobs who have obtained their degrees from ‘A list’ universities. This makes a nonsense of equality if the same degree is only acceptable from certain universities [names of companies can be supplied!] So if a student chooses a university near home for economic reasons s/he may find that an economic disaster if that uni is ‘unacceptable’ to the firms s/he applies to for employment.

    For those that think the Oxbridge etc unis give the best education, believe me ‘it ain’t necessarily so’. There is also more to education than the book learning, meeting people from all walks of life is one of the most important things, imo.

    And then we have the whole fiasco of student fees, loans etc. Today may be the longest day but not really long enough to debate that one and who knows what the budget will bring tomorrow.

    Education is one of the most important gifts we can give our children, but also importantly it doesn’t stop with young people. I am a great advocate of life long learning and latterly worked in the field of continuing adult education. Again successive governments have cut back investment in this important area – not realising perhaps that getting pensioners out of the house to an adult education class – in their words to me on many occasions – kept them out of the GPs surgery by ‘keeping their brains alive’. I was teaching at a first year degree level and believe me there were times when I was having trouble keeping up – especially with one 89 year old!!

    Education is also the way to overcome predujice, class divides, intolerance and on and on. But we also need good quality teacher training in all areas – especially that of special education needs in all ranges of ability [another hobby horse of mine which I will leave to another day]

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