Sociology of the family and education: Many children are living in Victorian conditions

Teaching union, NASUWT has just published a report that claims that a significant number of UK children are living in poverty and this in in turn affecting their schooling.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said

“82% of teachers report that the children they teach do not have the proper footwear and clothing for the weather conditions.

“Teachers now are regularly giving increasing numbers of children money, food, clothes and equipment, at their own expense.

“This is a shameful catalogue of deprivation and misery and a scandalous, heart-breaking litany of broken promises to our children and young people.”

Rushanara Ali said:

“There are 2.6 million children who face poverty and that is projected to grow to nearly five million by 2020 according to the IFS. That is a huge national challenge; it will require massive efforts to tackle it.

Only one in three disadvantaged pupils is hitting the government’s GCSE pass target – compared with over 60% of their richer peers.

http://www.nasuwt.org.uk/Whatsnew/NASUWTNews/PressReleases/PovertyBlightingEducationLabourConference

Tax

Should the wealthy be taxed at a much higher level than others? New Labour’s proposal of taxing earnings over 150k at 50% is being cautiously implemented by the Conservative government. Of course, this is a devisive strategy – many on the right claim it will slow the economy and encourage the rich to leave the UK, whilst many on the left argue it is a justified measure…even Warren Buffett supports higher taxes in the U.S!

Yet, perhaps the biggest focus should be given to the amount of tax which dodged by the elite, this amounts to billions of pounds and would go along way in adding extra revenue. The use of offshore banks is being more closely monitored, and a recent deal with the Swiss banks to return billions from previously anonymous account. Yet, the loopholes of the deal are said to be huge – there is no requirement to end the secrecy of the accounts, so no real break on illegal tax evasion. Nicholas Shaxon, author of ‘Treasure Islands’ argues that it is a “disgraceful deal” which “rewards criminality”, he questions why people who acted criminally are not prosecuted and further still he points out they are even going to enjoy a lower rate of tax. Thus, it is an excellent example of one rule for criminalised elites and one set of rules for everyone else. Cleverly, he points out that at a time when lots of the media are soul searching following the recent riots, and that the general public are suffering from moral decay, yet, it seems that it is actually some of the elites are the real criminals. It really isn’t hard to apply a Marxist argument to these findings!

Moreover, Faiza Shaheem from the New Economics Foundation thinktank argues that the disparity between the rich and poor in the UK is large and this fostered a lack of understanding as highlighted by the reaction to the riots with many denouncing “feral youths” rather than having any understanding of the socio-economic context. She argues that there is so much evidence that more equality brings more happiness – after a certain point, money does not breed contentment.

 

 

Waiting for Superman

Filmmaker Davis Guggenheim explores the US education system and presents a very depressing representation. Whilst the analysis at times is simplistic (“…until the 1970s the U.S had the best education system…”) and the narrative one sided, without doubt, Guggenheim presents a persuasive case for educational change. For example. he argues that there are over 2,000 ‘faliure factories’ in the USA, that in some high schools the drop out rate is 30%, an incredible amount. Interestingly, teachers in the U.S are heavily protected by unions and it is therefore very hard to dismiss failing teachers who enjoy the protection of tenure. Moreover, he highlights the cost of imprisonment in relation to education – education is cheaper. The ‘Knowledge is Power’ (KIP) programme appears to help overcome material and cultural deprivation and perhaps proves the sytem can overcome it’s shortcomings (http://www.kipp.org/). Amusingly, despite ranking 25th in Maths and 21st in Science (out of 30 developed countries) and 8th out of 8 for Maths in another study (DECO 2003) , Americans rank first in confidence!

Although of course the US is a very different society to the UK, there are definitely similarites between the two; many of the issues remain the same – overcrowded prisons, undereducated inmates, urban ‘sink schools’, an over representation of certain ethnic groups ‘failing’ in education and the lotttery of education.

Yet, I feel that there is a tendency to scapegoat teachers and lot of dubious statistics are used to back up his arguments. Guggenheim presents a reductionist argument claiming that teachers are the key determining  factor on a childs educational success. This of course is a very limited  premise – surely material and cultural deprivation are hugely important factors too! Tamin Ansary’s article “The Myth of America’s Failing Schools very much attacks Guggenheim’s claims:” http://www.infotk.com/digest/TeachersHelper/The%20Myth%20of%20America’s%20Failing%20Schools.htm

Yet, despite its shortcomings, it a very decent watch and really encourages us to reflect upon common sensical ideas about education systems.