Last month I visited the University of York to hear Lord Adonis give his thoughts on the future of education. It was also an opportunity for him to promote his recent book ‘Education, Education, Education: Reforming England’s Schools’.

Adonis declared his belief in the state as the supreme manifestation of society, that the state should seek to bring about change, for the better. To reform the English education system Adonis focuses on the following key areas.

  • Good governance

Comparing governance in the private sector with that of the state, Adonis expressed his belief that governance of state schools has been traditionally weak, particularly in deprived areas where the parent body is not strong.  The private sector, in contrast, Adonis believes has traditionally benefitted from good, strong governing bodies.  Can we look to the private sector for solutions while maintaining a strong state?

  • Good teachers

Unsurprisingly Adonis argued that teachers have to be the best. Increased competition is, apparently what is needed to ensure our teachers are the best. Adonis highlighted the ratios of applicant to teacher training places in Finland, South Korea and Singapore, and compared these with the much lower figures of England.  We need, he argued, greater selection for teacher training places, with far more applicants per place.  Presumably, he doesn’t mind an increase in disappointed  applicants.

Another, related idea is his call for fewer Universities offering teacher training programmes (another model borrowed from Singapore?), with only the ‘best’ Universities being allowed to provide such programmes.

  • Good curriculum

Looking at the practice in some of the more elite private schools, Adonis recommended more subject specific teaching from the age of seven.

Beyond aged sixteen Adonis argued the UK has the ‘narrowest curriculum in the Western world’, supporting the IB he looks, again to Singapore and calls for students to take a greater range of subjects over the course of their schooling. For those who are less academic, he proposed the idea of a Tech Bacc with requirements to study literacy, numeracy and work experience.

  • Good destinations

There needs to be good destinations for all, not just those that are academic. Highlighting a need for more apprenticeships, he argued that the Government should lead on providing apprenticeships.  See his blog post: Wanted – An apprentice scheme for Whitehall.

While claiming half our comprehensive schools failed, Adonis continued to refer to the need to ensure we have “all ability schools”, which,  surely means, comprehensive.

Although inequalities were mentioned on several occasions, I was not convinced that the ‘Class Wars’ in the title of his talk referred more to social class wars than it did to classroom wars. Education reform was presented as a means to social mobility and less inequality, yet previous education reforms have done little to make ours a more equal society.

There were some interesting suggestions that are hard to disagree with (raising the status of teaching for instance – though what this actually means is more complex) and some that I am not convinced of.  Whether any of his suggestions will come to fruition and, if they do, whether they will truly reform education as Adonis hope is another question.   Without tackling inequality I envisage a future generation of University of York students  listening to a speech about the failure of Adonis’ “all ability schools”.


2 thoughts on ““Class war: how education must change”

  1. Whilst these ideas sound somewhat comprehensible and feasible, would they not just push ‘education’ further towards schooling and away from education?
    I like the idea of a Tech Bacc if assessments have to be kept in such a format, but surely it would be better all round if actually formal assessment just went out the window? It’s not like anything means much in terms of schooling anymore anyway if everyone gets Level 2 qualifications, just to get level 3, then level 4, 5 and 6. The fight now seems to be about PG qualifications and beyond.
    What will happen when everyone in society either has a PhD/MA or nothing at all? Will you need a PhD to work on the checkout of your local supermarket, or to clear away everyone’s bins? And if you haven’t got one? Well the government won’t help you, the education system won’t help you either. Then what?

    Ahem, comment over… Would you have happened to come away with a copy of this book that maybe one could borrow for a few days?

  2. Hi Dani.

    I think you are referring to the old Mark Twain saying along the lines of ‘don’t let your schooling get in the way of your education’.
    While I do agree that schooling is not necessarily the same as education, I don’t believe that the distinction between the two is reducible to a dichotomous choice. Shall we have schooling or shall we have education? I share Adonis’ view that the state is the supreme manifestation of society (though I may will differ over the form of that state should take, and how we should be represented ). Therefore, I do believe that schools can and should be a means by which society is able to educate its children. How and why we do this, is a different matter.
    There is a debate worth having around the purpose of assessments, but we need to understand the wider economy of qualifications. Bowles & Gintis would draw on the idea of Marx’s surplus value, to argue that Capitalist economy thrives on a surplus of skilled labour whereby skills and qualifications are an integral part of this. Your skills and knowledge are indicated by your qualifications, but your labour power is worth the same as everyone else who has the same qualification, you compete against your fellow worker. The situation you are describing, where you perceive qualifications to be worthless as so many people have them, could, arguably demonstrate that capitalism is working well by ensuring the existence of a surplus stock of labour (keeps wages down, etc). Recognising this is not the same as liking it!
    While it might seem the world and his dog are collecting qualifications, there is a big gap between those that leave school with nothing and those who benefit from the ‘best’ education or schooling money can buy.
    There is a tension, very simplistically: Do you want more rationing of qualifications so you have better chance of getting the job you want? Do you want more people to have the opportunity to have the chance to gain whatever qualifications they are capable of gaining?
    You can’t consider either without considering the socio-economic system we currently exist in. All of which is another course for me to create I guess.

    He didn’t bring any copies of his book, so no, I don’t have a copy to lend you! One day maybe!

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