The Politics Of Aspiration For All
Tony Blair has been unwavering in his determination to tackle low horizons head on. This challenge lies at the bottom of all his thinking on schools and how to improve them. But maybe the voluntary, faith and business groups the Prime Minister so wants to see become involved in schools should ask themselves first what they could do to raise ambition and opportunities for the wider families of the children who most need support.
Education, education, education…. and never conceding the politics of aspiration for all. The two things are, as Prime Minister Tony Blair rightly says in his Guardian article (18 November ’05), intimately connected. For almost all of us, and never more so than for those around the centre-left, this truth is both self-evident and compelling.
Perhaps however the Prime Minister’s idea that ‘there is a huge untapped energy in the private, voluntary and charity sectors for partnerships to help state schools’ is only part of the truth.
From where I look – in Merseyside, as someone who has seen quite a bit as a teacher, social worker, researcher, evaluator, entrepreneur and so on – I’m not sure this hits all the nails on the head. It may hit some; but not all.
The options for partnership action are wider
I’m still unconvinced that Tony Bair’s wished-for partnerships are most urgently needed in schools as such. For me, working on the ground, the politics of ambition has to be much broader than ‘just’ schools – though this is a part of the equation.
Ambition simply inside the school gates is not going to take many children very far. I accept that the Prime Minister’s idea of education-other sector partnerships is (at least for now) a matter of choice; but many of the least blessed parents who, like everyone else, want the best for their children, are less concerned with well-meaning voluntary and faith groups or businesses getting involved with their kids, than they are with getting themselves into work.
For lots of people on Merseyside the main objective is just to get a job – and preferably a decent one. If voluntary and business interests, for instance, want to support disenfranchised people, perhaps they could begin by finding ways to employ them.
There are plenty of currently almost-trained adults on Merseyside whose future trade registration depends on work experience which is very hard to find. (Small businesses say they can’t afford to provide this for apprentices; and most of Merseyside’s economy is small businesses….) So how about starting with opportunities for less privileged parents and carers to show their children what ‘real work’ is, by being able to actually do it, for pay?
Ambition is a cultural thing
I don’t doubt for a minute that Tony Blair genuinely wants to see progress and improvements for our children and their futures. He’s absolutely right to throw down the gauntlet to us all. If we, voluntary, faith, business and other communities, want the best for children, we do indeed need to think hard about where we can best support and encourage.
And we need, too, consistently to challenge complacency, incompetence and / or narrow comfort zones, whether in local communities, schools, hospitals, industry, churches or indeed politics itself. If there are employment, educational, medical or other practitioners who don’t cut the mustard, they need to understand just why this is not acceptable – though not at the (perceived) expense of people ‘at the coalface’ who are in fact doing a good job.
I still wonder however whether we have the right ‘mix’ in all this, as yet. Tony Blair has identified and articulated an important, probably fundamental, problem, in that he sees (and always has seen) education and ambition as key elements of a successful future for everyone. But I’d like to think that all those sectors apparently so keen to go into partnership to support children can grasp the aspirational challenge outside the school gates, as well as inside.