I’m pretty sure you won’t argue with me when I say that education is important to national competitiveness but I wonder if you’ll agree with me when I say that Britain’s only real hope in the next twenty, fifty or one hundred years is to be the best educated nation on the planet. A medium-sized, chilly, Northern European country with famously crappy infrastructure and a persistent productivity deficit stands precisely no chance at all in the profoundly altered global marketplace of the next decades without this kind of advantage.
Allow me to repeat myself: the only way to retain anything like our current status against the double-digit growth machines of Asia by the time my kids (7, 6 and 2) enter the workforce is to get started right now on profound reform of our education system with the goal of making it the best in the world. Of course, teachers are like nurses – they can do no wrong. Any attempt, from any ideological direction, to shake the system up, to provide new incentives and to dump wasteful and counterproductive practices will be greeted with horror and most likely fail.
But you, the backbone of Labour’s thin parliamentary majority, have a chance in the coming months to kick off the step change in education improvement that we need to help Britain compete with the new superpowers, to help invent a new model for state education, one that’s so powerful it might begin to bridge the gap with the snooty private schools. Oh… Hold on. Today an excellent private secondary school in Manchester took the plunge and rejoined the state system. I’m stunned. Suddenly we’re presented with the real and exciting prospect of a flow of private schools back into the state system.
Don’t pretend you don’t think that’s a big deal! You now have the power to make the state system so good that the private sector simply caves in and jumps the fence. The white paper (and the bill) presents the very real prospect that the private sector will be reduced to a tiny rump of schools for the super-rich and for the super-weird. Please don’t refuse this opportunity to remake British education and get us on track for the inevitable head-on battle with the Asian superpowers in the twenty-first century’s global marketplace.
Your friend, Steve