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Tuesday, July 26, 2005


If one were to take a turn through near any council estate (for we all must at some point) one will, as has been noted before my many and eloquent people, see a satellite dish sprouting from every wall like the fungal growths of some virulent dieses of lower-class housing. There will also be BMW’s and widescreen televisions in evidence. This rather elitist introduction is intended to point out the sort of disposal to which certain peoples’ disposable income is subject to.

You may, depending on how closely you follow such things, have learned of Education Secretary Ruth Kelly’s plans for bolstering the education of poor people’s children. It all started on Radio Four. I won’t try t give the impression that I listen to Radio Four often, I just tune in to Women’s Hour once in a while – but the BBC kindly allow me to listen to recordings of their programmes over the net, which is rather more convenient.

It seems that children from under-privileged (that’s ‘poor’ to’ee) do not do so well in lessons as those from better off (privileged and over-privileged one assumes) families.

I know, I was as shocked as you are.

The introduction to today’s post talked of the apparent affluence of the council estate set because it illustrates the Alchemist’s ‘Theory of Insufficient Incentive’. Essentially the hypothetical poor child sees his family’s widescreen TV with Sky+, and their BMW – he sees his mother has no trouble keeping herself in Malibu and white lighting, he sees his fathers have no trouble paying for their two pouches of Golden Virginia every day, and he finds himself reasoning, not surprisingly, that education is not that vital to a good life.

Given the choice between attending school assiduously with a view to becoming an educated and productive member of Albion’s working corps and skiving off so he can kick over telephone boxes and steal hoodies, it is not surprising he chooses the latter, for he can see no downside. Once he is finally expelled at 16 he will sign on, and get a cash in hand job with a cowboy builder firm and set about raising (or fathering at any rate) the next generation of feral thugs.

The beneficent Kelly believes she can combat this by issuing free books to pre-school children (perfect for kindling the next time said children engage in a little arson), and by offering catch-up lessons to older children. Since truancy is at a record high, and is indeed rising still, one wanders how this last is meant to help. The children who need the catch-up lessons are the very ones who do not bother to attend the mainstream lessons, no?

You may be wandering if the Alchemist has a master plan – having slated phonics, catch-up lessons and teaching assistants at various times, you ask whether I have any better ideas?

As it happens I don’t. I really cannot see that our education system can be fixed in the short to medium term – for it has been crumbling so for long, stone by stone. You may say that we need to return to old school (if you follow) values, but that of course will never, can never happen – but similarly we cannot go on as we are. We have a school system which only plays at educating the poor, and often the rich too – and a university system now virtually inaccessible to a third of the population thanks to a loans system both draconian and Byzantine simultaneously, and in between we have some f the most underpaid and overworked teachers in the civilised world.

I wish I knew how to solve the problem, but more so I wish the Educations Secretary knew…

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