A Response to Tom Harris’s blog : A new Assisted Places Scheme would be patronising and misguided
I was interested to read Labour MP Tom Harris’s post tonight :
and bothered enough about it to prepare a bit of a comment.
On the basis that I don’t think comments should ever be longer than the original post though I’ve stuck it on my own blog instead. Please read Tom’s blog first so that you’ve got some idea what I’m on about.
I think there are 3 sides to this : –
- 1. This “assisted places” scheme sounds like silly season rubbish to me – and would be rubbish in what ever season it was in.
- 2. The people who’ve pointed out that ‘assisted places’ used to mean assistance with fees to private school are I believe right – and I feel very pleased that we’ve lost this scheme which supported a mode of education dedicated to perpetuating inequality in society.It might be interesting to examine though whether we could make better use of partnerships between private and state sectors in education (as indeed we do in the NHS) – Many people may be unaware, for instance, that local authorities already spend many millions of pounds providing independent special school places for children with special needs which can’t be met within the local area. Although there are a few issues with this it generally works quite well.
An increase in public/private partnership in education wouldn’t exactly go down well with the left wing of the Labour party I’m sure, but I’m all for looking at radical solutions – and if something works well, I really don’t care who provides it if it’s free at the point of use.
- 3. You’re wrong when you say that it was nobody’s fault but yours that you didn’t work hard enough to get to university. Yes you made that choice – but your culture (and mine) was a product of the divisive society that preceded you – and the biggest part of the challenge for education is educate ALL sections of society that education actually has value – and to do it in timely fashion so that disadvantaged groups do not drift off into delinquency in their early teens – as I almost did.
If no one in your family has ever been to university or worked in anything other than low paid jobs, then the prospect of getting a degree and landing highly paid jobs in positions of influence seems pretty remote when you’re 15.
I did actually wake up in time to get to university, and did so not on a loan, but on a grant – which was a great leveller – it made even the rich kids poor. Of course now we have far more people at university and the state can only afford loans, and students have to pay tuition fees. Irrespective of the reality of this – the mere prospect of the debt puts prospective students from poorer families off.
What we don’t seem to be facing up to, is that by increasing the numbers of people at universities (and thus reducing the money to fund each student) – we’re actually decreasing the proportion of poorer people at universities – and also devaluing the degrees that they would achieve. It would seem sensible to me, to reduce wider access to universities – replace loans with grants – and ensure selection is purely on academic merit. Oh yes – and find a way of persuading young kids from poor families that doing your homework really is more worthwhile than hanging out all night down the town centre with a bottle of cider.
This would arguably make university education more elitist – however a better way of thinking about it might be to say that it would be more specialised – high academic study is not for everyone – but it should be available to everyone who wants it and is capable of it.