Saturday, 2 April 2016

Have a nice day in the High-Rise tower, but remember the lifts are broken

This week I popped into a shop at the ungodly hour of five o’clock. After purchasing some goods and parting with my hard-earned money, the young shop assistant wished me a good day. In fact, their exact words were, ‘Enjoy the rest of the day.’ Now, it was very nice, but sadly it was echoed by the other young shop assistant next to him to an elderly lady, who looked like it could be her last day and so maybe it was more important for her to enjoy this last day. Please do, old lady, enjoy the day; you have certainly earned it. These platitudes, we are exposed to daily, weekly and monthly, are the glossy coating on society’s problems. They sound nice, but they are without meaning, value or heart. The young person didn’t care about me personally. He was programmed to say it. Therefore, he didn’t see the gap in the logic of his comment. There were very few hours left to enjoy in the day. For all he knew, I might have passed out within thirty minutes of leaving the shop.

It just so happens I am currently in a reflective mood after reading J.G. Ballard’s ‘High-Rise’: a dystopian take on modern society and how it is slowly, or quickly, breaking down told through events in one single block of flats. The different classes are living on different levels and are slowly alienating themselves from each other. Mankind is reduced to savagery and animalistic behaviour, when the trappings of civilisation are removed. From the outside, things look fine, but underneath the surface things are broken. People still go to work, even though inside the flats chaos runs. While reading the book, I was reminded of the current education system and Nicky Morgan’s recent speech. A speech that seemed as well-meaning as the young shop assistant wishing me a good day. It was, in my opinion, empty, hollow and without passion. I think somebody could do with one of my lessons on pathos.

I am not an openly political person and I will not openly share my political persuasions. Plus, red is never a good look for a blond. But, the current issues in education are making me angry. I didn’t raise my head up from the parapet for the phonic debate, but the privatisation of the education system is one I feel strongly about. Did I say privatisation? I mean academisation of the education system.

To those not in education, education looks like the outside of the High-Rise tower. Things look fine. The lights are on and people are going to and from school. Inside, however, the lifts are broken; people can’t move freely. There is rubbish in the corridors and people live in fear. The swimming pool is broken and it is full of corpses. Even the classroom has been looted and the tables and chairs have been used to build fires. I am being all metaphorical at this point – I need to mention this before somebody reads this as the reality of schools. We have been politically manoeuvred in a way so that the only way to survive is through becoming an academy. If the lifts are broken, you have to find a way to survive.  

My grandmother was employed by National Rail. I remember as a child sitting on trains and the pleasant experience it was. As an adult, I am repulsed by some of the experiences I have had on some trains. I have squeezed myself against a door as people struggle to get a seat. Nobody offers seats up for the needy. Isn’t privatisation great? Through family connections, I have seen parts of the NHS and the armed forces privatised and none of it has improved things. Prices have increased. Jobs have been lost. Efficiency has not improved. To see this happen to education is the saddest of all things. We all know what happened with ‘Group 4’.
If I felt that changes were made with all children’s best interests in mind, then I’d be happy. But, I fear they are not. LEAs are being worn away so that schools have to source their own services or materials. But, of course, there isn’t the money. In ‘High-Rise’ people go in search of things to eat and that ultimately ends up with people eating dogs. In schools, people are having to find solutions that cost little or no money, because there isn’t enough money as a result of squeezes on budgets. Added to this the new GCSEs need new texts and new textbooks. More costs enforced by the government and their changes. We have even had people telling teachers to use textbooks – could that be because somebody will be able to make some money out of selling them?

Education is becoming a business. Choices will be, and are being, made based on costs and not on what is best for children. Both things have to be factored in sometimes, but I foresee a time when the dominating factor will always be cost. What will make us more money? I used to work in business and the unwritten rule was: keep costs down and make loads of profit. Apply that business rule to education and you increase class sizes and cut corners and look for ways to make money. Young inexperienced teachers will be selected over older experienced teachers. Cheaper alternatives will take precedent over all choices.

Schools are sold the lie that academies will give a greater level of flexibility. It might be partly true, but schools haven’t been in this situation before, so how can they make the right, informed choice? Yes, schools have choice, but they have the choice to get it wrong in so many ways. We have all been duped when buying something for the first time because we were not experts. Now imagine that on a large scale.

In ‘High-Rise’ there is one floor that most share. Floor ten has a shop, a swimming pool, hairdressers and other things in it. It is the one floor where all kinds of people can meet regardless of class. The sad truth is that a privatised education system will be that there will be no floor tens. It will make the distance even harder for people to raise themselves up. Schools will be more selective about who they will take. It is well-known amongst some of my friends about schools that actively put off SEN students from attending schools and that is where I foresee things going. Giving schools choice means some schools will focus on making choices that will favour them rather than the student.   

Privatisation of the education system looks nice in principle. A large dose of money to make that school look a bit pretty, but it doesn’t solve what is ultimately the main problem: a percentage of the population do not see the benefits, value, worth or purpose of education. Why do they need to work hard? What is the point of going to school? Getting young people and society engaged in education and improving should be at the heart of all education policies.

Actions are louder than words. Young people see that there are very few jobs. Young people can’t go to university because it will mean they have lots of debts. Young people cannot see the different paths to improvement. Young people cannot always see the benefits of working, because what are the benefits for them in modern society. Culturally, we have an issue with disaffected youth. They are born in a scary place and we are not, as a society, showing them the paths to success. Instead, they see the lift is broken and that it is too much effort to climb the stairs. All too often extremism is borne from a lack of hope and a sense of frustration.  Society needs to think about its actions. It doesn’t matter what some Cameron clone says to a few teachers about helping them stop marking so much. Society needs to show children that the lifts might be broken, but the steps will help them survive, succeed and prosper. We need to stop telling young people they are important and valued and we need to start showing them they are important.

Society needs to change. ‘High-Rise’ is a comment on the connections between people and how it is important that people feel a sense of connection in life. The new education white paper focused too much on the building and not enough on the people in it: the students. A lot of the advice, in my opinion, was fixing damage created by the government in its several forms. White paper meet my lighter. A building is a building. A school is a school. It is the connection the students and the teachers have to education that is important. That is the starting point for any improvements in education. What are the barriers to students learning? Certain contextual factors affect progress in secondary schools. We need to show students how to use the stairs and remove any rubbish blocking them. But, more importantly, they need to be shown this through our actions and not just through our words.  

Have a nice day.


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