On education, it's the Tories who are pulling up the ladder

23 Sep 2016

IMPACT Article of the Month

 

Theresa May says she believes in “levelling up”, but there’s nothing level about Tory education policy. The re-introduction of grammar schools is one in a long line of policies aimed at creating, not reducing, inequalities within our education system.

 

Research has repeatedly shown that grammar schools widen the gap between rich and poor pupils, cater to wealthier areas and don’t contribute to the amount of university attendees from disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the OECD Director for Education, re-introduction of grammar schools is likely to lead to social selection rather than academic selection, as children from poorer backgrounds are squeezed out; attending grammar schools in fewer numbers and receiving less benefit from doing so.

 

Those who will benefit the most are those who are already seeing all the advantages - private tuition and private schooling,  growing inequality in children's health, and when all else fails, employer discrimination against working class accents.

 

For disadvantaged children who get the grades in high school, life becomes even harder after they finish their GCSEs. Due to the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Grant (EMA), less students are going to college and it is safe to assume that it isn’t the wealthiest children who have been most affected by the changes. Likewise, under Theresa May, apprenticeships funding is to be cut by between 30 and 50 percent for 16-to-18 year olds, with the proposed cuts likely to impact most in England’s most deprived areas.

 

May accused the Labour Party of 'pulling up the ladder behind them' on grammar schools. But it is the Tories who have been pulling up the ladder throughout their 6 years in government. Thanks to the Cameron-Clegg coalition government, students face loans of over £50,000 to study an undergraduate degree, or £75,000 to complete a masters, after tuition fees were tripled and means tested handouts were scrapped and replaced with loans.

 

In 2015, youth unemployment hit record levels – the highest it has been for over 20 years. Wages have fallen, and benefits are being cut through unlawful sanctions. It is clear the Tories are hitting the poor during their most vulnerable stages of growing up. No wonder the number of young people presenting at A&E with a psychiatric condition has doubled since 2009.

 

But it is not just young people who are suffering under the Tories. The ACEVO Commission on Youth Unemployment estimated in 2012 that youth unemployment could cost the UK economy £6.3 billion a year in lost output. And healthcare admissions are likely to drop by 6 percent as a result of cuts to bursary funding for nursing and midwifery, putting our health services under even greater pressure.

 

Instead of cutting essential bursaries and funding for young people, the government should be helping them to succeed and investing in the future workforce of our health service and our economy. Even more unfair is the shifting of the burden of debt from the government to the student. US studies have shown that student debts play a significant role in contributing to depression, anxiety and ill-health. Even worse, it has become a criminal offence not to make student loan repayments, putting poorer students in even greater risk.

 

Around 28 percent of loans are never paid back, with 45 percent of university graduates not earning enough to repay their student loans. According to the Telegraph’s ‘money expert’, a salary in excess of £40,000 is needed simply to pay off the interest on an average student loan figure, as interest rates have increased. James Connington writes, “the result is these aren’t loans at all, they’re a badly disguised tax. No responsible lender starts with the basic premise that they will never be repaid in full, and the government seems to have no intention of facilitating graduates to pay off their loans within 30 years.”

 

The current system is designed to keep individuals in debt and will no doubt continue playing a fundamental role in deterring the poor from going to university. It will leave those who graduate with the psychological and financial burden of debt for the full 30-year repayment period, reducing their spending and contributing to ill-health. Apprenticeships can provide an alternative for poorer students. But that is only if we accept the cruel conclusion that university should be reserved for the wealthy. If Theresa May truly believes in a fairer education system, she should put her money where her mouth is – and scrap the cruel system of student debt.

 

 

 

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