There is prejudice in education, but not where you think

There is prejudice in education, but not where you think

Having read the reaction to the Commons Education Select Committee’s report I must agree that there is prejudice and discrimination built into the education system.

It wrongly values academic ability above vocational ability.

Our priority in education must be to provide an education that fits each child’s needs and their particular strengths and abilities.

The ‘one size fits all’, comprehensive approaches tend not to work because they are too inflexible to address the range of abilities children have.

This important element of our system gets little traction because at present everything is seen through the prism of race.

That is why the select committee’s report has had such a reaction.

It addresses head-on the long-standing fact that working class white boys have been ‘let down’ for decades by our education system.

It notes that the modern, trendy and controversial notion of ‘white privilege’ might be making the situation worse.

This term has been drawn from Critical Race Theory, which tends to group people in terms of ‘the oppressed’ and ‘the oppressors’.

It makes being a ‘victim’ an ambition because ‘victims’ are rewarded. And if you are not a victim, so the theory goes, you must be an oppressor.

That this unacademic, binary theory came out of universities does not reflect well on higher education.

Whilst it is crucial to acknowledge and combat the terrible injustices of racism, a simplistic approach in dividing people into categories belies the real complexities that exist.

Injustice occurs in many forms and in terms of educational opportunity the situation is very complex.

Wealth, status, ethnicity, where you live, the educational background of parents, family instability and types of ability or specialist needs are all factors that can play a part in who is more or less privileged.

All children should be regarded as equally valuable and offered the same opportunities.

This means that we should strive for an education system that creates equality of opportunity for all.

It does not mean equality of outcome because many factors can affect the progress children make.

However, we should try and make it as fair as possible.

Terms such as ‘white privilege’ are unhelpful because they skew the argument.

There are many white children who are underprivileged and in poverty and come from families that have a multi-generational history of poor education and low paid employment.

Then they keep hearing how privileged they are.

The select committee’s report acknowledges this absurdity and even suggests that schools which promote ideas of ‘white privilege’ could be in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

These working class white children identified in the report can hardly be described as ‘privileged’.

They are just as underprivileged as many from other ethnicities.

It is also true that many from other ethnicities are deeply privileged; perhaps they have wealthy, well-educated parents who can afford to send them to private school.

Once we have left behind the vacuous theory of ‘white privilege’ in education – something I hope this report helps us do – I want us to address the more important issue of giving academic and vocational studies the same value.

I believe the German model has been more successful because it plays to children’s strengths and does not penalise them if they are less academically able.

Vocational and practical skills should be recognised and given the same dignity and status as academic ones.

Our system tends to push all children down the academic route right through to 16 when it is clear that many would benefit from a more vocational approach at 14 – then they wouldn’t lose interest and lack commitment.

My experience of teaching children is that a feeling of having succeeded breeds confidence and self-esteem, whereas simply failing to be good at something leads to the opposite feelings.

We have to re-balance the educational system and provide an even more academically rigorous education for those who are this way inclined, and challenging vocational and technical training opportunities for the others.

In doing this, those white working classes and other groups who struggle are more likely to move up the rankings.

This will help even things out and will mean there will be less need to view education in terms of race.

It also involves making sure that all children have a good foundation in literacy and numeracy at primary and lower secondary levels.

If children are literate and numerate after primary school and can choose an academic or vocational route at 14 – each with the same value – we will see the education system even up, which is what everyone claims they want.