Education

Every child is made in the image of God. Several stories in the Bible make it clear that Jesus had a great love for children, pointedly including them in his ministry, healing them and even telling his disciples that ‘whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:4). It is clear that as Christians, if we are to live according to God’s values, our heart should be to provide the best chance in life for every young person. In the Proverbs and elsewhere, the Bible repeatedly mentions knowledge and wisdom as key to a happy and healthy life.

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Education plays a vital role in creating and promoting a vibrant economy and a healthy society[1]. If we want the next generation to become skilled, intelligent and confident members of society, it is of paramount importance that we act to deliver high quality care and education to every child. We are fortunate to live in a country with a long-established principle of free education; however, the events of the past year have been very worrying for those who believe in a fair school system.

While it is understandable that parents want the best for their children, pursuit of this can create an individualistic market which undermines the principle of equality in education. If we want a level playing field, we cannot allow the richest and brightest to be separated from the majority. As members of the public, we grudgingly accept richer adults travelling in first class but would not wish to give a small proportion of eleven year olds an automatic right to do so. Furthermore, the Education Policy Institute has found no positive effect on social mobility or attainment[2], suggesting that the case for grammar schools is weak at best and misguided at worst.

Spending_per_pupil.pngIt is obvious that many schools are struggling in the present climate, but the answer is not to obsess over selection for a few for ideological reasons (as the prime minister seems to be intent on doing) but to help every child. This means increasing investment in all schools. IFS data shows that, following large spending increases in the 2000s, investment in schools has stagnated since 2010, and per pupil funding is set to fall in the coming years[3]. This is not acceptable and will cause attainment to stagnate as well as placing great pressure on vital services for young people. We need a new government committed to reversing these damaging cuts. It is only by investing in education that we can hope to deliver a world-class school system for our children.

Schools also have a unique duty to prepare children to enter society as responsible and informed adults. If young people are to fully engage with civic life, they must be both appropriately educated and sufficiently empowered from a young age. This means comprehensive civics and citizenship education should be taught to all British children. Christians on the Left supports lowering the voting age to 16 to give young people an active stake in the political system while they are at school. In addition to this, in a world in which confusion around sexuality abounds, and in which a majority of 11-16 year olds – 53% according to a recent official report[4] – have been exposed to online pornography, it is important that sex and relationships education is promoted in schools and taught to children as appropriate.

pg-16-child-poverty-graphic.jpgIt is also important to remember that education is lifelong, not just confined to school. Big promises have been made about early years funding, but the government has botched implementation of 30 hours a week free childcare and made drastic cuts to Sure Start, negatively impacting many young lives. That nearly a million more children will live in poverty in 2020 than in 2010[5] is an indictment on our society, yet the IFS believes that the increase in recent years ‘is entirely explained by the impact of tax and benefit reforms over this parliament’[6]. By choosing to create this poverty, the Tories are failing badly in their duty to those in our society who need most care.

The other side of school, sixth form and further education budgets have seen severe cuts much larger than those faced by schools in recent years[7], to the detriment of young people at this vital stage in life. The tuition fees debacle of the coalition government, together with the recent abolition of maintenance grants, has punished young adults, ensuring they begin their working lives with massive debts. We need to fund higher education in a way that is fair to students and that ensures valuable European research funding is maintained after Brexit.

Vocational education is an effective way to combat the problems of structural unemployment. Many communities in many parts of the UK have struggled to adapt to the structural shifts in the economy over recent decades as jobs have dried up in sectors such as manufacturing and mining to be replaced in others in fields like financial services and technology. These changes can be very difficult for individuals and communities, and practical skills training, both in further education and for adults seeking to switch career, is one vital way in which the government can help. But despite the rhetoric, action in recent years has been woefully inadequate. The government recently heralded the fact it could allocate £500m to technical education, but this sum is far less than sufficient and will not enable the step change we need in technical education.

_71005234_skillstraininggettyimages.jpgIt is clear that a significant change of direction is needed on education. Labour has an ambitious plan to invest heavily in education, creating a free National Education Service that will raise standards and improving the lives of everyone, not just a fortunate few. Reversing cuts to Sure Start, free school meals at primary school, proper financial investment in schools, bringing back the Educational Maintenance Allowance for disadvantaged young people, abolishing tuition fees and restoring student grants, providing adults with access to skills training and technical education: Labour’s detailed plan will transform education at all levels in Britain. It is radical, but radical change is needed.

Children and young people are extremely valuable, yet also among the most vulnerable members of society. Our own Father in heaven has charged us all with the great responsibility of caring for them and nurturing them. Our Lord said ‘let the children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14). It would be a tragedy if we did not embrace them too.

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