When I was a small child, in the September of 1943 I started school. The school was just opposite the house I lived in, so it took just a few minutes to walk round to the gate. It was a large brick building with four school yards. I was keen to start school, my father was away in the army and mother was very busy, shopping, cooking and cleaning, looking after my little sister and me. All those jobs were very time consuming and physically demanding. I had a very nice young woman as my first teacher and it was very interesting to hear the nursery rhymes and stories she told. I soon discovered that there were a lot of things that were new to me. I don’t remember learning to count, or read or write, these things at first seemed puzzling but soon became familiar and allowed me to enter another world. My best friend had very blonde hair and blue eyes, she learnt everything very quickly, Joyce lived in the next street and like me she had a younger sister. I was a quiet girl and tagged along behind Joyce whenever I could. The big event was to join the free library, the teacher had to sign a card to say that you could read and would take care of their books. At that time books were in very short supply, most of the books in school and the library had been published in the 1920s and 30s. But being able to read a new book for free was very enticing, mother told me that I could only go to the library with my sister, she was in the class below me so I had to wait until she got her ticket, then we could both get on the tram to the library.
Nowadays we have film and video easily available they are amazingly effective teaching tools. It can be argued that we need to know the individuals and organisations who are producing these films. A film can be extremely selective about the truth it reveals and indeed omits to reveal. Worse than that it can actually tell lies.
The horrors of the way the very poor live in this country and many others, are such that we don’t want to know. Very few people are interested in watching sad and upsetting pictures and the rulers are fiercely against such stories becoming public knowledge, even democracies such as the UK have methods of preventing such unpleasant information coming into the public domain.
The same thing is true of the printed book, every historian looks at the facts and sees some facts that are more important than others. Who was the Prime Minister: Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron. What were the decisions made: who paid more tax, who paid less, who paid for the educational system? The middle class who did they vote for and why? The daily lives of the ninety-nine percent are frequently left to novelists and poets. Of course there are now more historians who themselves came from the working class and often they give us a different view of history. We learn the truth from many different histories and sometimes these change over time.
Myself I looked to history to learn something about me and my family and how we fitted into the wider society. I still have a lot to learn.
The government thinks that a few children, from ‘ordinary working families’ need a good education therefore the solution is to bring back grammar schools. The majority, say 70% would of course not be selected so we can save money on most secondary schools. These children would be told that they were failures, as they were in the days of the 11+. Of course no-one is saying that all children have the same talents and abilities but selection presupposes an elite, maybe 10%, or 20% or even 30%. The remaining 80% will some how find their way through a fragmented education system and the large number who are functionally illiterate can mind a machine. Oh I forgot our clothes and equipment are made in China or Korea, so we don’t have any machines in factories. The kind of jobs we did 10, or 20 or 30 years ago don’t exist any more; the jobs we want people to do nursing, caring, looking after the very young or the very old, we can’t afford to pay for. Rich country that we are we prefer to reduce the taxation on the very, very rich because they are the people who talk to the politicians every day and they are the ones who pay their election expenses.
There are some countries that have the revolutionary idea that all children matter, mostly these countries are in Scandinavia. In Finland, which comes very high in the Pisa educational ranking: ” the Finnish strategy for achieving equality and excellence has been based on a publicly funded, comprehensive school system without selecting, tracking, or streaming students during their common basic education.”—– ” Inclusive special education within the classroom and instructional efforts to minimise low achievement are also typical of Nordic education systems.” [ this information is taken from Wikipedia]
It seems to me that the most important words here are ‘ without selecting, or tracking or streaming’. This is so different from the UK educational system where these same three words are the basis of all secondary schooling, with the addition of one other, testing. All children are told frequently where they come in the pecking order of the classroom, for the majority that is below the six boys and girls at the top. This is entirely their own fault. There are no resources to provide the help they need. It is entirely predictable that the result is bullying, which it appears is accepted as ‘normal’ behaviour in the classroom. I speak from experience my eldest son was bullied on a daily basis, he was a very bright boy with a great enthusiasm for learning. But such are the tragic results of unaddressed bullying, he had to leave school without completing his education. Of course there are many more like him going through the same kind of experience today.
The pleasures of being a digital voyager, I can sit in my chair and my knowledgeable guide Michael Portillo has made all the arrangements for me to explore; Latvia, Estonia and Finland. Modern technology brings the world to me, in earlier centuries the printed book did the same thing without the amazing panoramic pictures of the beautiful lakes and the interesting buildings in towns spread out before me. And perhaps the most amazing thing is these strangers speak to me in English, the only language that I understand, they probably also speak German and Russian. These countries have a long history of being ruled by their neighbours, in recent years these small countries have been in charge of their own affairs. Finland has made enormous strides both economically and educationally. The PISA report by the OECD has found that the education of all Finnish children to be very high in ; maths, science and reading. Finland also tops the ranking of Global Information Technology growth rate, one of the highest in the OECD, since the 1990s economic growth has been dominated by electronics and the electrotechnics industries. Investment in Research and Development has also been high.
It is clear that the government of Finland has come to the conclusion that the best resource the country has is its people, all its people, not a tiny percentage of the elite but everyone. Teaching is a difficult profession to get into, very high standards are set. Therefore teaching is a highly regarded profession with a reasonable standard of pay.
There are no standardised tests in the early years and the children are not in competition with each other, the reverse is true. Children who have mastered a task are encouraged to help those who are having difficulties. My understanding is that this leads to an absence of bullying which is common in far too many classrooms in England. Indeed is accepted as ‘normal’ with the extreme distress that this causes many individuals, not to mention the premature failure of some of the brightest students. I have experienced this with my own family.
The Scandinavian countries are geographically close by and historically share much of our history, yet we always look to the USA which has a dismal record of treating the many different minorities who live there. A broader outlook has much to recommend it.
The Welfare State is in danger, this present government thinks it is too expensive, it should be sold off to the private sector, (as is happening surreptitiously ). I was ten years old when the welfare state began in its post Second World War development. In addition to family allowances and sickness benefit, the biggest benefit was the setting up of the National Health Service, free at the point of need to every member of the population. The previous system of voluntary hospitals and Workhouse Infirmaries were totally inadequate to cope with demands in the late 1940s. Aneurin Bevan, the Minister of Health from the Welsh valleys called it,
“The biggest single experiment in social services that has ever been undertaken.” 7th October 1948
The remuneration of the doctors proved difficult, they did not want to be a salaried profession. Agreement was finally reached on 18th June seventeen days before the appointed day. A last minute acceptance by the BMA that they would be part of the NHS.
If present plans go ahead many people; the disabled, the long term sick, poor children and large numbers of the elderly will find themselves outside the free National Health Service for the first time in 68 years. The facts are objective, my own view is very subjective.
The Welfare State has been in the background, sometimes in the foreground for most of my life. I owe my free grammar school place and free college education to the 11+ and to the idea that some poor children deserved a good education and all deserved free secondary school to the age of fifteen. This came about when the 1944 Education Act was passed, it was referred to as the Butler Education Act.
Presently the NHS is in the foreground, and my husband is now at home recovering from a major heart operation. At no stage was money asked for, the treatment was free at the point of need. We have lost sight of the fact that paying for the NHS out of taxation is the fairest way, not only the fairest but in fact the most efficient, cost effective way of providing a service which everyone can use whether they are poor or super-rich. If the super-rich think they are outside this system, they could not be more wrong. The hospitals are built, paid for and run on taxpayers money. The doctors , the nurses, the radiographers, the surgeons, all the medical staff are trained and payed by taxpayers, likewise all the equipment, the drugs, the beds and the cleaning.
The Welfare State is not just of benefit to the poor; it benefits the working poor, all the degrees of the middling sort and the super-rich. In fact the whole country is able to prosper and adapt to the ever changing circumstances we find ourselves in. Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Finland have all found that being fair and equitable to all their citizens results in a prosperous, peaceful society. In Britain after 1945 we made some progress in this direction but since the 1980s the idea has been pushed aside. Some erroneous idea that market forces must be allowed complete freedom to pay low wages and give back to the rich more of the surplus wealth that working people have created for them. The countries where the extremely rich control the politicians are exceedingly harsh places to live where no-one has security and a peaceful life. Those are the countries where the young and fit are desperate to leave.
When young and healthy it is tempting to think this will always be the same alas we none of us know what tomorrow will bring; an accident, a serious illness, the illness of someone we love. For most of us life has in store the unexpected and the devastating, the old age brings with it a catalogue of aches and pains, crumbling bones, painful joints, the failure of heart and lungs and we expect help to be at hand. Very often it is. In the last thirty years a misunderstanding has been encouraged that even a prosperous peaceful country such as the UK cannot afford to pay for the Welfare State. This is dangerous rubbish. Yes some taxes would have to increase but some of the exceedingly rich think that burying their huge wealth in a secret bank account will protect them. More rubbish! A peaceful, fair equitable society where ‘at the point of need’ everyone receives the care, education and support they need has fewer criminals and we know that prisons are the most expensive social care available with a dreadful record or returning young men and women to a life of crime. Now that is an expensive business.
There is plenty of evidence that British society has become increasingly more unequal very like it was in the 1920s and we all know what that led to, 1929 ring a bell?
Source: WORDS, WORDS, WORDS.