Our local high school has hit the news in recent weeks, and not for pleasant reasons. According to recently published figures, we have the worst High School in Scotland in terms of educational achievement. Read one news report here. The problem is also discussed in an another article here. The results seemingly reflect the great disparity between the academic performance of children in affluent areas over and against those from deprived schemes.
I am currently digesting Daniel Dorling’s, ‘Injustice: why social inequality persists’. He argues that our current educational system is actually elitist and is nothing more than a tool for reinforcing our society’s penchant for categorising people into the ‘haves and have nots’ and the ‘deserving and the undeserving’. He argues:
Under elitism education is less about learning and more about dividing people, sorting out the supposed wheat from the chaff and conferring high status upon a minority.
Dorling rages (literally) in this book against a society that, according to him at least, has swapped the term ‘delinquent’ for the term ‘least able’ to categorise one seventh of all children in the UK. 100 years ago it was thought that delinquency was down to a poor education and that by educating people we would ‘cure’ them of this ‘disease’. I think we are on safe ground in suggesting that this social experiment has failed! Obviously, as a Christian I would argue for another reason for delinquency in the human race. Certainly, the Psalmist was unequivocal when he stated, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5) The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians that we are all, by nature, “children of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:3) Of course, these verses refer to our inherent sinful nature, which, I would argue is the cause for all human delinquency and, crucially, knows no social categories and is not bound by any elitist class structure.
Back to Dorling. His view of the current educational points scoring system in this country (and I agree with him) is that it does nothing but reinforce the class divide in this country. It reinforces already previously held stereotypes. You come from a scheme? You are ‘thick’. You come from an affluent area? You get a good education and are more likely to ‘achieve’. Both sides look down on the other with undisguised hostility that carries through long after schooling has finished. Just how helpful is it to publish results tables like these to the people in our community? What message is the government trying to put across? If you come from Niddrie then you are not as smart as other children? Do your best, settle for second best and maybe one day you will get a menial job for low pay, never really able to rise above your current conditions. I know that the moral of many of the teachers in this school, who work long hours in difficult conditions, is at an all time low. How much of a stigma is it for a student to admit they go to that school, never mind teach there? How will that look on the CV? How about trying to go into further education? They are already fighting prejudice before they’ve started.
As a community church with strong links to this school, we need to be investigating ways in which we can be more helpful and proactive in supporting both the institution and its pupils. Historically, an overwhelming majority of ‘school leavers’ have not gone on to further education and/or employment, so one of the areas we are looking at is trying to develop a workable, ‘job training’ initiative on the schemes whereby we can offer work experience and apprentice style training opportunities for some of our young people in Niddrie. The thought is still in its infancy but we are hoping it will grow into something more substantive.
Our young people need to be leaving school with hope for the future with big dreams and ambitions. We should fight with every inch of our being against the thought that they should just accept their lot and get used to a life of limited opportunities.