Labour’s plan for a National Education Service could not come at a better time. Ten years worth of cuts have worn the education system into the ground. Tory spending promises of £14 billion will barely scrape the surface of the long-term damage the party has insinuated over the decade. Long gone are the days where mere spending offered a solution. To fix education, we need large-scale reinvestment and a redefinition of education, to break educational inequality.
Labour’s NES is the only solution to view education as a necessity, rather than a privilege. Simply; the promises of Tory spending, even if they did come true, would never be enough to fix a system down which has been abused by continuous cuts.
The Human Rights Act of 1998 listed social rights, which include the rights to an education, as a basic prerogative for all. Many who have had the privilege of a grand education assume that this is being fulfilled in Britain today. But the barriers towards education at all stages of life are still thriving, in all forms.
Barriers towards higher education intensified with the introduction of University tuition fees in 2010, under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Even though many graduates will never have to pay their loans back, the sole existence of the fees prevents many from low-income backgrounds from even considering university. Aside from monetary obstacles; it provides a mental barricade towards the prospect of attending University. If the re-payment prospects are null and void, do tuition fees serve a purpose?
Under Labour’s NES, however, Corbyn promises to demonetise higher education, and make University universal with the scrapping of tuition fees. This, he says, would make the prospect of university, 'open to anyone from any background for free, without racking up tens of thousands of pounds in debt.'
Labour also pledge to provide free, life-long education to all adults so they can adapt to new career prospects, no matter what stage in life. Corbyn calls this a ‘cradle to the grave’ type service which is never off limits to those who previously could not afford further training. With Labour’s new proposals, therefore, a real change in how Britain views, and gives access to, education is on the cards. Quick spending promises are not heralded as the only solution.
Covering the cost of an individual’s lifelong education is part of Labour’s vision. One that stems from the necessity of investing in the individual, which will then impact the longevity of the economy. Our economy is changing by the day, and those just beginning their working lives will never have the same job, let alone work in the same sector, for the entirety of their career.
With the rise of new sectors, educating workers will become a necessity, and this should not be the economic burden of the individual. Investing in education is, therefore, not a smear on the budget, or a demonstration of irresponsible spending, but an imperative solution to our changing society.
No one in the twenty-first century should be facing barriers towards education, advancing their career or earning potential. The highest paid jobs should not be reserved for the privileged.
The existence of private education embodies Britain’s ties to its historically unequal past. Although only 6% of the current population attended private schools, most of their attendees have been running our country. The administers of austerity, David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg, all attended private schools. A private school where resources per pupil were never an issue and where small classes and one-to-one tuition was the norm. And, above all, where GCSE and A-level results were always higher than state school counterparts.
In 2018, for example, 48% of private school students achieved an A*-A grade in their A-levels, as opposed to the national average which was 26%. And in GCSE results, 63% of private school students achieved an A grade/7 or above, compared to 23% of state school students. In terms of academic prospects and attendance at top universities, those educated from private backgrounds will always have one extra foot in the door.
Those in defence of private schools proclaim they offer a good education, so why abolish them? However, this ‘good education’ is only accessible to those who can afford it: in 2018/19, the basic fee to attend Eton was £40, 668 per annum. Private education is routed in privilege, manufactures individuals who are out of touch, who then go on to work in the country’s top job. This includes 51% of UK journalists, 74% of judges, and 32% of MPs.
This needs to change. We need to give everyone the same access to education and career prospects and we need to widen the diversity of our leading industries to reflect the society we live in.
This year, the number of state school students attending Russell Group universities fell for the first time since 2010-11, and the number of state school pupils who attend is currently 31.1% (285,580 out of 2,343,095 that attended between 2017-18). Of these, the majority of students were white, and came from backgrounds where parents either went to university themselves or had a higher managerial or professional job. Access to higher education should not be determined by the backgrounds of individuals, but their academic capabilities and individual strengths.
The solution to Britain’s ongoing educational disparity, is not chucking a handful of money at schools and hoping for the best. But initiating a complete overhaul of the educational establishment. One that overhauls class inequality and access to good educational foundation which is currently determined by economic background. Tories continue to promise more spending, but maintain the right to have tuition fees for universities, and preserve private education establishments.
Labour’s NES promises to redefine and redistribute education in Britain, so that we begin to treat it as a universal human right that disintegrates the class-driven system born from private education and access to higher education derived from socio-economic privilege.
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