How important is education?
March 17, 2017, 4:50 p.m.
At Action Tutoring we like to keep our finger on the pulse and build learning into our culture. Each Monday a member of staff scours the news for a concerning education story (although they’re not too hard to come by!) to debate in our team meeting and we start our week setting the world to rights.
A couple of weeks ago, my eye was caught by an article on the TES website - which incidentally also has some great free teaching resources if you register - it stated that just 1% of the public considered education to be the biggest issue facing Britain today. Top of the polls was the NHS, closely followed by Brexit, immigration, the economy, housing and unemployment.
As a team solely dedicating our working life to improving the educational outcomes of our young people, we are under no illusion that we are representative of the country as a whole. We know that access to healthcare is a universal, fundamental need that can mean the difference between life and death, which explains why the income and popularity of health charities far outweighs that of other charity sectors. But even if education isn’t the most important factor, surely it is important! According to the research, only 15% of those questioned agreed that it was.
When looked at in isolation, the statistics surrounding the issues ranked higher are bound to garner more public fears for the state of the country, and rightly so. NHS cuts and Brexit dominate the headlines and recent research has shed light on the scale of the housing crisis too. The wealth gap between home owners and renters is growing at an alarming rate, and rough sleeping has increased 130% since 2010 to over 4000 cases a night across the UK.
But to view these in isolation is to ignore the power of education in changing these conditions. The housing crisis is intrinsically linked to unemployment, and unemployment to education. Currently over one million 16-19 year-olds are not in employment, education or training. But these are unlikely to be the pupils who left school with ten good GCSEs, an inherent sense of grit, resilience and contacts in the job market, it’s more likely to be those facing educational disadvantage. If you were on free school meals at school there’s a 33% chance you’ll be in the NEET category.
I could tell you a hundred reasons why education is a priority - the attainment gap, mental health, teacher shortages and funding cuts seeing schools lose hundreds of pounds per pupil. However, these go only some way to explain why it should be valued more highly.
As Jen, our Programme and Curriculum Director, put it - “Education underpins all elements of society: the knowledge to know what makes a good diet; how the economy works; access to the job market and tolerant, empathetic and altruistic actions. Collectively, education is a force to unite people in a world of shared positive values.”
Jane our Recruitment, Communications and Event’s Assistant’s view was that- “Education is the most important issue society faces today because it underpins the ways in which all other issues are understood and tackled. A good education not only helps us to understand the world, but also our place in it, and it empowers us to change it.”
Emma, one of our London Programme Coordinators, agreed that it’s a force for change- “We can only hope to reduce social inequality by using education as our stepping stone. Education is the tool that tackles all components of social inequality, be it poverty, gender, unemployment, access to resources... the list goes on. Education gives you the power to change your own path and increase your opportunities.”
But I think Hannah, our Bristol Programme Coordinator, summed it up pretty nicely:
“At any one instant in time education is not a critical issue in the way healthcare, housing or unemployment can be. In some ways, it is a luxury for me to look at education as a main issue facing our country. It can be written-off as a typical thing for the liberal elite to say and given little more consideration.
I believe for long term change and potential to influence many other critical areas of our lives education is key. When done well, education can open up opportunities and choices to people they never would have had otherwise. Speaking from a female perspective I am grateful for those who fought for my right to an education and know my life would look dramatically different if they hadn’t done so.
So, should education necessarily take priority as an issue over Brexit, NHS, housing and unemployment? No, I don’t think so. Should it be given a seat at the table in these discussions to ensure we are planning for the long term and not just the next general election? Absolutely.”
Written by Elly Turnbull, London Programme Coordinator and Policy Lead