For the very poorest, education is no longer an emancipator

15 Nov 2017

 

It's nearing the end of 2017 yet the United Kingdom still hasn't achieved educational equality in terms of geography, ethnicity or class. In such a diverse country, why is it that a student's postcode is one of the most powerful predictors of academic success?

 

For decades education has been vital to social mobility, with previous generations using their place at university as their ticket out of poverty. But is this still true?

 

Labour MP David Lammy has recently highlighted the inequality within the Oxbridge application process, which has led to over a hundred MPs demanding that elite universities end this 'social apartheid'.

 

Lammy's publication of his Freedom of Information request showed a decline in social diversity of students within Oxbridge, with 82% of successful applicants from the top two social classes. It is no secret that a degree from an Oxbridge institution opens doors to top careers, big money and inevitability, power. This is why the 'systematic failure' to achieve social diversity within the Oxbridge application process is particularly alarming. If we allow the current application process to prevail, it leaves little space for social mobility.

 

Educational inequality stretches beyond social class. There are also disparities between the north and south. It's recently been revealed that Richmond sends eight times as many students to Oxford than Salford, Middlesborough, Hartlepool, Blackpool and Stoke combined.

 

These figures are unquestionably disappointing, but what's more disconcerting is the government's lack of concern.

 

Last year, students like myself watched our treasured teachers grapple with the effects of the real term cuts in funding for education, proposed by Justine Greening. The Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that spending on school pupils would drop by 6.5% over the course of this parliament. These devastating cuts will lead to excellent teachers being forced out of their professions simply because they cannot do their job properly. Current funding levels have left schools unable to purchase equipment, improve buildings or even afford the textbooks needed for the new exams introduced by our current government. If Westminster wants to close the educational achievement gap between the north and the south, then reversing the £2.8 billion worth of cuts made to school funding since 2015 would be a start.

 

Initiatives created by Blair's administration, from Sure Start to the Educational Maintenance Allowances focused on eradicating the challenges that students and children facing socio-economic deprivation often encountered. With poorer children already falling behind at 22 months of age, Sure Start was a bold initiative to improve this; a vital tool in reducing disparities that occur from birth.

 

 

From behavioural problems to substance abuse, a plethora of obstacles stand in the way of the disadvantaged. Initiatives proposed by New Labour almost two decades ago aimed to close the gap in educational disparity.

 

So, with such a clear correlation between social class and educational achievement, why have such measures been scraped? Our current education policies have overturned progress made by New Labour. Instead, this government espouses the delusion that education is a meritocratic ladder of equal opportunity.

 

The government can no longer ignore the inequality in education. It must implement measures to ensure achievement throughout the UK, across our eclectic mix of ethnicities and backgrounds.

 

So why has government and the public been ignoring this problem? It can't be denied that these blatant inequalities within our education system are uncomfortable. The majority of people in a position to influence or create change are beneficiaries of educational disparities. To illustrate, last year Oxbridge made more offers to pupils from Eton than to pupils receiving free school meals. With just over a third of MPs and 50% of peers being privately educated, (whilst the national average is 7%), we have to ask ourselves whether those in positions of power and authority are indifferent, even hostile, to creating change.

 

Initiating change within the education system, both at a higher and secondary level would result in a long-term shift in power. It remains to be seen whether those currently in power choose to preserve the privileges they benefit from, or strive to improve social mobility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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