I spent an enjoyable evening discussing education inequality at the RSA tonight as part of the organisations’ Inequality in Education series. A passionate opener from Diane Reay was followed by a laid back and humorous contribution from Danny Dorling. Dorling asked some very good questions that I think that we all ought to talk about more.
The upshot of both contributions was that there is a lot of inequality about in the UK. Rather than combat this the education system typically exacerbates this by directing resources towards those who are already privileged. As a result we have a highly competitive system in which the competition is essentially rigged. This system encourages individualism and rewards compliance, but at the same time fails to teach us much that is actually very useful.
The best fact of the night was presented by Dorling. He put up a graph which demonstrated a correlation between inequality of income and performance in mathematics at 15. The correlation wasn’t all that strong, but it was there. He then trumped this by showing us performance in maths at 16-24 where the correlation was almost perfect. In other words unequal societies are a bit worse at getting people to pass exams but they are a lot worse at getting people to remember anything. The intense competition encourages short term performance rather than long term learning.
We then discussed what all of this meant and more importantly what to do about it. Thankfully the evening was fairly free of the usual think tanky solutions (although Diane Reay did mention the ever present Finland A LOT!).
At the end of it I was left thinking that this isn’t all that complex. So here are my conclusions for what they are worth.
- Education cannot solve an unequal society. If we want to make society more equal we have to make it more equal. Try taxing high earners a bit more and using the money for the education system for example. However, we could…
- Stop the state funding private schools through charitable status and various other kickbacks. Private schooling is a pretty obvious example of inequality which at the very least we shouldn’t be subsidising.
- Reduce the capacity of schools to run various kinds of questionable admissions policies and enact policies to make going to local schools the norm for most people.
- Reduce the use of streaming in schools as this creates middle-class enclaves in schools.
- Reduce the amount of testing.
- Loosen up the curriculum.
- Increase funding to further education.
- Increase funding for adult education to help people to move in and out of the education system throughout their life.
- Remove higher education fees (they aren’t sustainable anyway!)
- Bring back HE grants and the EMA.
- And, of course, improve career education and guidance, so that everyone is better informed about how the education system works.
How does that sound? Problem solved?