It is well known that Nelson Mandela commented that 'The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children'. A couple of days ago, the Guardian reported that a firm of solicitors, Baker Small, had created a Twitter storm with a boast about a 'great win' over parents who had been refused special needs funding for their children. In response to tweets objecting to such a viewpoint, the company tweeter proposed that these were 'one sided arguments' only fit to be shared with 'my cat'. A blogger on the topic of special needs commented 'Somehow, the child at the centre of this didn't appear to be even considered'. Unfortunately, this is emergent effect of the government's over-arching policy for childhood. But why would the oldest democracy in the world be home to professionals who think it is quite reasonable to publically share such views on highly vulnerable children? It is time for Britain, England in particular, to take a long hard look at itself in this particular mirror.
Over the past three decades the socio-political milieu in England has increasingly evolved within a "neoliberal" framework, which subjugates the needs of the nation's human population to the requirements of the national and international economy. In this way, human beings become defined primarily as "capital". The logical outcome is the delivery of education in semi-privatised institutions delivering a highly market-focused, expedient programme of skills and knowledge training to churn out human resources for the market via the most commercially generative process, in which such 'resources' (sometimes constructed as 'products') are relentlessly tested in order to measure 'value for money'.
In the words of Ken Spours writing in The New Statesman: 'the abiding metaphor of education is now a race, a global race in which every country and every person has to become ever more competitive.' This imperative has in turn more recently given birth to the concept of the 'academy' and thence the 'Multiple Academy Trust' or MAT, which in turn is beginning to spawn semi-privatised exam factories; a super-store model of education provision. However the problems with such public-goes- private initiatives, be they in health, social care or education is that, in the end, the underlying culture drives the practise, with the emergent outcome that the core focus becomes capital rather than client. George Monbiot comments that 'Those who own and run the UK's privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much'.
We can already discern this culture exhibited in the fledgling English academy system; for example a few days ago, The Guardian reported that England's academies were 'becoming a cash cow for business'. The trail towards this outcome was already visible in academies two years ago, in the shape of inflated salaries for executive head teachers and what the BBC terms 'dubious business relationships'. We can also look to America for a more developed programme of corporatisation in state education where, in some states, huge corporate transmit-and-test machines have arisen. These institutions also train their teachers entirely in-house in order to ensure complete compliance with the company line; a process that has already begun in England, albeit currently on a much smaller scale.
The question for parents is whether this really is how they want their children's portion of the national budget spent, and if they do not, what as a community, they are prepared to do about it. The current Conservative Government came to power with plans to compel every school in England to become an academy, and this was only recently halted by a rebellion from their own back-benchers days before this commitment was to be cemented in the Queen's Speech. However, the underlying impetus remains in the 'true character of our society' and will therefore, like Marley's Ghost, return to haunt us until we effect more deep and abiding change in the ways in which we position people and the economy.
To effectively provide an education for our children that, in the words of Prime Minister David Cameron 'gives them the character to live a good life, to be good citizens', we need a culture which prioritises the child over the market, and views childhood as an organic, holistically developmental life stage in the process of becoming a human being, rather than as an expedient journey to an existence as a human resource within a wealth-obsessed society.
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