As the political debate intensifies in the run up to the General Election, the economy is high on the agenda. Unsurprisingly, the coalition government seeks to present a picture of economic recovery.
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people who have borne the brunt of the government’s savage austerity measures continue to feel intense pain – and according to the chancellor’s autumn statement the misery is set to continue.
Over the last four years, the gap between rich and poor has widened and unfairness and inequality have increased significantly. This unacceptable trend is set to continue unless post-2015 we have a government which is committed to an economic policy which secures inclusive prosperity: in which all of the people have the opportunity to share in the wealth of the nation, there is no exploitation for gain, and the government recognises the importance of creating opportunities through the provision of education, healthcare and a welfare safety net.
The case for securing inclusive prosperity through investment in education is compelling. The benefits for individuals include enhanced skill levels, greater employment opportunities, and potential for increased earnings. This investment in human capital has social and economic benefits which, as the OECD asserts, drives economic growth and tackles inequality.
A total of 3.7 million children in the UK are currently living in poverty and the number is set to rise. Thousands of children are homeless. Poverty and homelessness are key barriers to educational progression.
A coherent government strategy is therefore needed which recognises that schools cannot improve educational wellbeing in a vacuum; that all services need to work together to improve the lives of young people and that a range of factors affect children’s educational outcomes, including health, housing and the material circumstances in their households.
To be inclusive, the state needs to enable all young people to meet their potential through policies which ensure that they are not denied opportunities because they do not have the necessary social and human capital. This means that government has a critical and key role to ensure that the ethos, values and principles of universal publicly funded education are secured and that the inherent promise that all children, regardless of background, are entitled to access high-quality education provision is kept. High-quality education is provided through securing the key entitlements of all young people:
The entitlement to be taught by qualified teachers who are recognised and rewarded as highly skilled professionals, with working conditions that enable them to focus on teaching and learning.
The entitlement to a broad and balanced curriculum that recognises different forms of learning and offers rich and relevant experiences and the removal of barriers to achievement for those with SEN.
Ensuring that access to educational experiences that promote opportunity and achievement are not determined by parents’ ability to pay, and that publicly funded education is not run for profit.
Securing every young person’s entitlement to a guaranteed place at a local school or college.
Since 2010, every one of these entitlements has been removed. Education has been the target of an ideological policy agenda, which has at its heart a philosophy that the market, private providers and volunteers can deliver public services, thus leaving them at the mercy of those whose main ambition is to make a profit, and removing any democratic accountability.
On May 7, the country will go to the polls. At the heart of the election campaign will be the future of our public services. If we are serious about challenging inequality, the outcome of the General Election must bring a change in political direction.
If we aspire to an inclusive society, then there must be a vote for education on May 7.