02 February 2007

Ideology trumps educational standards

The current ‘Economist’ in its survey of Britain (subscription):

But a passionate ideological debate about selection in English education (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own systems) has got in the way. Politicians have been so intent either to defend or to oppose selection by academic ability that they have failed to set up a system of rigorous and useful qualifications for those whose interests are not academic. Standards have suffered in the name of inclusion, and vocational training has been chaotic. Meanwhile the great divide between public and private education has remained as important as ever. Clever Stuff, ‘Economist’, 1 February.
This is what happens when ideology drives policy. The policymakers and their hangers-on – well-intentioned, no doubt, and smart, certainly – lose sight of their original goal. They assume that they know best how to achieve their desired outcome. Eliminating selection was the supposed means to their end of equal opportunity for all, in the context of the English educational system. One outcome has been that grammar schools became fee-paying, and divisions widened. The ideologues didn’t achieve their stated goal, but that was probably supplanted in their minds by the outcomes they did achieve: they strengthened their identity, reinforced their ideology, and bonded more closely with people who felt the same way. Oh, and the pupils suffering from their muddle-headed idealism? Who cares…who really cares?

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