Educational Excellence Everywhere!

Whilst David Cameron vows to ‘finish the job’ on academies  today’s guest blogger, author and academic Patrick Ainley, explains why academies aren’t the answer. Defining the failure of our young people as a much bigger problem that needs to be viewed within the wider context of politics and the economy he explains how on earth we got here and what must be done to get us out of this mess.

Author and academic Patrick Ainley’s book Betraying a generation: How education is failing young people publishes today. 

Patrick Ainley

Patrick Ainley, author and Professor of Education and Training at the University of Greenwich

“Educational Excellence Everywhere!”

What a bonkers title for a White Paper that imposes another great school reorganisation on all state schools in England turning them into independently competing academies run by charities and chains!

This is supposed to drive up ‘standards’ in tests and exams, though there is no generally accepted evidence that it does so in the half of secondary schools already ‘free’ from local council support.

In fact, overall the UK is falling down the international league tables of school achievement that government and Inspectors are so fond of.

Exasperated and disaffected

Meanwhile, pupils are studying more but often learning less, parents are exasperated by being unable to get the schools of their choice for their children and teachers are increasingly disaffected.

Certainly teachers’ unions are correct in supposing that academies as ‘independent state schools’ will undermine national wages and conditions, whilst new layers of regional bureaucracy are proposed to micro-manage them.

Institutional memory is short but of course this has all happened before when the Further Education Colleges were removed from Local Education Authorities in 1993. Since then the colleges have halved in number, adult and other provision has been run down, including so-called ‘apprenticeships’ now lasting a year or less.

“When this sub-prime student bubble bursts, it will not all be mopped up by the private universities government aims to encourage.”

Meanwhile, FE students have been decanted into the universities, turning higher into further education for loan-funded ‘degree’ courses that without maintenance grants can leave graduates £53,000 in debt and still unemployed. Universities compete to cram in all these fee-bearing students! When this sub-prime student bubble bursts, it will not all be mopped up by the private universities government aims to encourage.

But with the ‘participation age’ (in school, college or training) now up to 18, youngsters under this age cannot just be ‘warehoused’ as they can in tertiary education. They can be crammed into larger classes and force-fed on-line lessons supplied by Pearson or Murdoch though!


So competition between autonomous schools, colleges and universities produces similar dysfunctions throughout the system. Understanding why this is happening is examined and explained in my book Betraying a Generation: How education is failing young people.

It maps the changes in the way state institutions are now run as part of a new market state, in which power contracts to the centre whilst responsibility for delivery is contracted out to individual agents. All this in the name of ‘skills’ for a new economy.

But although education can make you as ‘employable’ as you like, it still cannot guarantee employment! And although government now promises ‘full employment’, this includes many people working intermittently at low-paid jobs.

“widening participation to higher education…actually disguises a proletarianisation of the professions”

As education has been substituted for employment, this leaves many young people running up a down-escalator of devaluing qualifications desperate to gain at least semi-professional careers.

So widening participation to higher education claims to professionalise the proletariat but actually disguises a proletarianisation of the professions. This is because the upward social mobility promised by education, can only be exceptional in current conditions of general downward social mobility.

It doesn’t have to be this way and there are some simple, and some seismic, policies that could create positive change, contributing to a sustainable and meaningful future in which young people can move forward with their lives. To start we need to ask what constitutes an appropriate general educational entitlement for a democratic and sustainable society, and then work towards building it. This is what my book tries to do.

(Overuse of exclamation marks is deliberate in this blog since the Education Secretary has recently tried to ban them!)

Useful links

Anti-Academies Alliance
Stand Up For Education
Post-16 Educator
In Defence of Youth Work
Tutor Voices, the national network for further, adult, community and skills educators
Campaign for the Public University 
Council for the Defence of British Universities
Society for research into Higher Education
FE Research Association
British Educational Research Association

Betraying a generation [FC]

Betraying a generation: How education is failing young people by Patrick Ainley can be purchased here from the Policy Press website for £9.99.

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Patrick Ainley is Professor of Education at the University of Greenwich and Visiting Fellow at New College, Oxford. He has taught in schools, colleges and universities, writing on youth and education including From School to YTS (1988) and Lost Generation? (2010).

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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