Whether or not education really improves society comes down to whether the school and assessment systems in place are able to both train its students, and set up the right kind of skills and life experiences for future employment. The history of education, particularly in the UK, demonstrates an ongoing effort to improve society and the prospect of social mobility through access to universal education, and to an ideal of a meritocracy. However, there are some complications to this ideal, which particularly centre on current policies that are aiming to toughen up assessment in the UK.
In terms of the historical value of education, schooling and higher education was primarily limited to fees paying and upper class Britons before the 19th century. While Anglo-Saxon schools and forms of grammar schools – which focused on Latin and Classics, as well as general education, were significantly limited in terms of the populace’s access to them.
The 19th century saw the Victorians push for progressive social reforms that put education front and centre for encouraging better general standards of knowledge and skills. At first, the Elementary Education Act of 1870 only made schooling semi compulsory between the ages of 5 and 10, with the Elementary Act of 1880 making it compulsory. The leaving age for compulsory schooling was increased to 11 by the end of the century, and again to 14 in the early years of the 20th century. At the same time, technical colleges and state funded secondary schools were able to offer more comprehensive education levels.
However, eleven plus exams that separated students between grammar and less prestigious schools continued to make distinctions in terms of academic achievement – often tied to economic status – although progressive methods worked to make compulsory schooling and some form of tertiary education available for 16 to 18 year olds. Further revisions to UK education in 1988 included a National Curriculum, competitive league tables, and under the Labour government from 1997, more state support for encouraging students to stay in school past 16.
The tangible benefits of education to society are difficult to quantify, however, with general standards and what schools should teach consistently being tied into broader ideological changes. The Conservative government have developed policies that aim to reduce state support for schools in favour of more privatised schools and academies, and a message based on students being able to better themselves through choice of schools and initiative.
Today, education remains a safety net of sorts, and one that is linked to reduced unemployment, reduced crime, and the gaining of skills that can allow individuals to achieve personal success through merit. The OECD defines education, in this respect, as a ‘crucial driver and enabler of well-being and social progress,’ with schools as the stepping stone to an adulthood of positive civic participation.
The Confederation of British Industry have also pushed for education as being at the core of any future workforce, where a lack of basic literacy and numeracy skills can make the difference for Britain’s future economic prosperity. In this context, spending on education is viewed as an investment in improving future generations’ employability and international competitiveness.
Problems still remain, however, over what exactly a good education system should mean, and how far the social benefits and opportunities for social mobility of schooling can really be measured. The Conservatives are targeting English Baccalaureate schemes and tougher A Levels to reward academic achievement, but are also potentially damaging the chance for diverse education and vocational training.
As Andy Powell, CEO of education foundation Edge argues, ‘there is no excuse for such a top-down, one-size fits all evaluation system.’ It’s difficult to tell whether education really benefits society in a way that can be directly measured, but what is clear is that education represents the foundation for adult and professional life that should not be simplified.
Lisa jane is a secondary school teacher in the UK. She is concerned with the increase in education jobs in London, and hopes more people turn to inspiring the next generation. Albert can be found blogging about the different challenges faced by teachers today.
Originally posted 2013-05-28 17:23:22. Republished by Blog Post Promoter