What the hell is education for??!!

Two things over the past few days have caused to think once again about my views on the current discussion in education and whether education serves at all well the needs of the pupils that go through it and the life, personal and working, which they go to.

The first of these was the report in the Liverpool Echo about the ramping up of holiday costs during school holidays. I thought some of the rhetoric was a tad unfair on the holiday companies who have a limited time to meet fixed overheads. However the basic point was absolutely valid- holidays in school holidays cost more than at other times.

The second was the fuss about who should chair OFSTED. My personal experience of this body is that it is useless. Many of their inspectors are people who can no longer do the job. Their work is arbitrary and adds little to most schools. Does it really need a flying squad to go into a school to tell whether it is doing well or not? I don’t think so. Personally if I was to get rid of anyone from OFSTED it would be the chief inspector who strikes me as a bit of a fruit cake!

First a little recollection from my past. My eldest daughter did not like me attending school open days. Too often I was recognised as Cllr Kemp rather than her family! On her last open day she wanted me to go. She knew that she did not want to go to University and that all the pressure on her would be to do so because that is what looked good for the school.

She was right. I was alarmed at the way that members of staff seemed incapable of understanding that not all clever kids wanted to go to University; that some children were clever but did not want an academic life; that some people would find fulfilment using their other talents and skills.

What mattered most to them was not the quality of the output to their pupils but how it would be seen to affect the league tables on which many things, including their own pay, depended. These league tables are based on an arbitrary set of assumptions which include how many exams are passed and how many go through to University.

I am not a Luddite who wants to get rid of exams and who does not believe in measuring how well a child is doing and therefore how well a school is doing when those individual results are aggregates but I do not believe that exams and university should be the be all and end all of the education process. I certainly think there are too many and deplore the idea that their should be tests at 4 and exams at 13 which are currently being mooted.

So let’s go back to the holidays position. I believe that family life is important and that family holidays are therefore an important thing to maintain. The chance to spend one or two weeks together as a unit with few external distractions is very important. I have so many fond memories of our two weeks in the sun (actually it was usually raining) when my Mum, dad, Sister and I could have quality time together. Erica and I often talk with our family about the time I had too many liqueurs in Crete and what happened when Erica and I found the naturist beach!

But I am middle class and a reasonable earner. I had the holiday flexibility to allow me to go on a break in August. I was able to afford it. But for many neither of those two things pertain. For the past few years as a semi-old codger I have been on holiday in September. When I have been chatting with mums and dads who were on holiday at that time with school age children it was clear that many of them had no choice. They either could not get time off in school holiday periods because their employer would not let them or simply could not afford even a basic holiday at those times.

For them this was not a choice of whether to use the second home in the Dordogne or go to the Maldives it was Spain in September or bust! I believe that they made the right choice because a family holiday in those circumstances was more important than two weeks study. The rampant middle classes who make up these policies have no understanding of the pressures on many families as they seek to spend time together. They therefore impose their view on others. It would help if they spent more time looking at the make up of school terms which force parents and their kids into such narrow areas of holiday opportunity

Just in case anyone wants to misquote me I am not in favour of unrestrained nicking off. But where parents can demonstrate firstly a good attendance record for their children and secondly the fact that they cannot go another time there should be no problem with allowing them to go.

So on to my second hobby house. Why have we adopted and then stuck to the daft call from Labour for 50% of people to go to University? Two things are absolutely clear:

The first is that our economy does not need to have 50% of workers with a degree. My guess is that it needs probably no more than 25% at most. However what our economy needs is a well educated cadre of people with perhaps an additional 50% who can go on to a wide variety of education and training opportunities.

The second is that the interventions of OFSTED and the league tables of the past 20+ years are not turning out such a cadre of people. Many of the people who end up with degrees end up with poor jobs and large debts because they never had the talent or drive to do more than that. For them Uni might have been a good time but not a productive one. For years I have listened to the CBI and others bemoaning the fact that our education system is failing them and therefore failing the country and the individuals who cannot get appropriate work. But no-one in government seems to be listening. The rounded individuals with a rounded education are few and far between.

The education system needs to ‘turn out’ people who want to learn, who love to learn and who can adapt to wide set of circumstances in which they will need to learn. I don’t believe that our present system does that. Do you?

PS  Just in case anyone dobs me to Erica. I am a semi-old codger who can go on holiday at any time. Erica comes along as my carer and is in no way semi-old!

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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