What is education for? Is it for the younger generations to “profit” from a holistic learning experience that enables them to live and learn as young people now and adults in the future? Is that the “profit”? Or is it something more economically driven – profitable for those who have money to invest both as a provider and a fee-paying recipient?
Is the “profit” of education there for those whose financial intervention is leading education to a centralised governance and management that places power over all schools firmly in the hands of the Secretary of State for Education?
We currently have a system whereby “philanthropic” organisations and members of society can invest in education through the academies system. This investment basically paves the way for central government to control education. But surely in these times of austerity, people haven’t got a spare million or two with which to buy a controlling stake in a school? (We say this with tongue in cheek, knowing as we do that in our time the wealthiest members of society are becoming massively wealthier.)
Phil Beadle’s article refers to the potential threat of profit-making organisations entering into school governance. This, in turn, brings greater authority to a single person in the shape of the Secretary of State, whoever he or she may be.
Reports from Conservative “modernisers” are rolling off the presses, telling Michael Gove that the only way forward for schools is now the introduction of the profit motive. Two reports from the Policy Exchange thinktank led commentators to suggest the education secretary was “under pressure” to introduce such a policy by an organisation he had actually helped set up himself. Recently, another group, Bright Blue, added its voice to the throng , , ,
For more, please read the article in full.
The left are concerned about this because of the fact that any organisation could invest in schools irrespective of their “moral compass” or their determination to make money for their shareholders. The argument, Beale, concludes, needs to go further than this, and the issue of centralised control could be a decent starting point to engage with such propositions. Do we really want a centrally controlled education system that is run by a small clique in parliament?
So we ask once more, what is education for, and surely it must never be about making money?
If we need to reiterate this point, then take a look at the state of universities in this country. A golden gift of tuition fees was handed to them by Charles Clarke when he was Secretary of State for Education. A tripling of these fees by the current government gave some universities a temporary hiding place from their economic plight. But now, it’s all backfired. Numbers are falling and inexpensive interactive courses through internet connections are beginning to offer viable and cheap alternatives. There’s a real challenge facing universities at present – a challenge that questions their very being, exacerbated by their need to make money. Is this what we want for our schools too?
Another article in the newspaper addresses the issue of shrinkage in higher education and how we seem to be slowly drifting to a state of disintegration without preparing or considering viable alternatives.
As Peter Scott suggests in the concluding paragraphs, what is university education for?
No other country is so complacently contemplating decline. Most are pushing hard for growth. The reason is simple. The number of what the political economist Robert Reich called “knowledge workers”, most of whom need to be graduates, is increasing exponentially; high-tech and “knowledge services” drive the economy.
But it is not just the economy. To confront the challenges we face we need to cultivate a critical humanity, open minds in open societies. Of course, you don’t need to be a graduate to do this. But it is becoming more and more difficult actively to engage without at least, in Lord Robbins’s famous phrase half a century ago, “the smell of a higher education”.
These can be frightening and challenging times but the real profit of education has nothing to do with money-making and a hell of a lot to do with the development of a “critical humanity” that Peter Scott mentions.
What’s more, all the talk about a need to bring in private sector for-profit “providers” in order to “drive up standards” is clearly ideological nonsense. The countries that are really successful in achieving high standards in all aspects of learning wouldn’t dream of handing education over to their private sector.