Today’s Daily Telegraph is fulsome in its praise for Ian Duncan Smith, quite rightly pointing out that George Osborne has been given credit for his role in restoring confidence in the country’s finances but Ian Duncan Smith deserves recognition for his consistent message about reducing the dependency culture that Labour had so comprehensively promoted. This is absolutely right and well deserved because IDS has not just spoken consistently; he has put in place a series of reforms that place an emphasis on getting back into work and make clear that the benefit system must provide a hand up to those in need and not a handout for life. Britain’s resurgent economy owes much to IDS as well as to the Chancellor.
However, there is a third leg to the stool that provides a long-term step up for UK plc and, without its support, the best laid plans will just fall over. This third leg is fundamental reform of our education system. Far too many children escape from thirteen or more years in school without competence in the three RS, without life and work skills and without knowledge of citizenship.
University attainment has been dumbed down with too many degrees in media studies and no wonder when universities have to spend the first year in remedial teaching to make up for the failure of many schools. Also no wonder when universities are forced to skew their intake to meet PC admission quotas rather than basing it on ability. It is no use bewailing the fact that independent schools are better at preparing children for university than state ones; the only answer to this is to raise the standard of state education to that of the best public schools.
We have embraced a culture that insists a huge swathe of school leavers must go on to university and not doing so is now a sign of dismal failure. It should not be and we need to encourage alternatives that are vocational and attractive.
Too many children find secondary education increasingly irrelevant and switch off or drop out. We need to find ways to stimulate the natural instinct of every child to explore, experiment and learn. No, I am not advocating trendy leftie education theories that encourage children to learn at their own pace and by their own choice; just the opposite. I am advocating a system that offers diversity; that develops life and work skills at an early age; that encourages confidence and individualism but within a framework that demands enthusiasm and hard work.
We won’t achieve this with our present state education. Michael Gove understood this and set about reforming it despite the opposition of the teacher unions and much of the education establishment. I fear his demotion has kicked away the third leg of our potential for economic reform and our resurgence as a world class economy because, without a better skilled and motivated work force, we are doomed to becoming the poor man, not just of Europe but of the world. Employers will tell you of the dearth of basic skills and of poor attitudes among many unemployed and unemployable youngsters.
There are two huge drags on our state education system.
One is a whole generation of teachers who not only cannot spell, punctuate or write good grammar but who actually don’t think it matters and who have been imbued with trendy leftie teaching ideas based around a manic search for equality at the expense of excellence. To understand the mentality of some of the people teaching the nation’s children, watch the pictures from the NUT conference and ask yourself if these are good role models for our children?
The other drag is from parents for whom education is just not important. Any school will struggle when a proportion of their children have parents who feel like this and the sad truth is that state schools inevitably attract a large proportion of such parents. This is a challenge as large as the dependency culture that IDS has sought to stem and it is probably even harder to eradicate, being based in a societal culture of long duration and with deep roots. It wll take a visionary like IDS to lead that cultural change and to take on the opponents of change. Michael Gove was such a visionary which is why it is such a tragedy that he has been side-lined to the role of Chief Whip.