Brexit presents the greatest opportunity for an economic and social revolution in Britain. For all the merits of the neoliberal revolution in the 1980s and the prosperity that it brought to the UK, an increase in social mobility was not one of them. As of today, children from foster care represent 27% of the prison population, workers educated in UK private schools earn 17% more than state school educated workers within 3 years of graduating and are 4 times more likely to be a millionaire. If we are to build a truly Great Britain we must exploit the skills of our entire population, not just the social elite.
People across the country despair at the prospect that their children will grow up with fewer life chances than themselves. Children from troubled backgrounds are told that their results "are good considering your situation", while families with means pay for hundreds of extra hours every year with external tutors. Meanwhile, we grant increased benefits to the baby boomer generation at the expense of investment in education and financial support for parents. Inheritance or parental support is seen as the only option for many to get on the housing ladder, further widening the gulf of opportunity between those from wealthy backgrounds and regular households.
It does not have to be this way. The solution is not more money but a new prioritisation of resources. Education is the great leveler, it equips children with the skills which will enable them to compete in this newly globalised world. Education is a weapon of social reform, it allows us to correct for the existence of ill equipped parents, schools can be a substitute for aspects of parenting.
Over the 20th century we managed to attain 99.9% academic literacy and numeracy. Almost every adult and child can read and write and, although many are numerically weak for the needs of many of their jobs, they are capable of functioning in everyday life. This is in retrospect a fantastic and vital achievement of developed countries across the globe. However, these skills are not sufficient for the basic jobs of the future. Computer and programming literacy will soon become a prerequisite of the job market which our children will enter into. Equally we live in a far more globalised world than that of our parents and if we wish to make the most of Brexit, it is vital that our children are able to speak the languages of the world (Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic & Russian).
Schools in their traditional form are particularly poorly designed to teach both programming and languages. Immersion in both computer and natural languages has been shown to considerably outperform “spread out” classroom teaching. Put simply immersion works. Immersion, particularly in natural languages has a secondary benefit of boosting cultural understanding alongside equipping children with the linguistic skills they require. Further this is a tried and tested method both for programming and language education.
Our proposals to re-skill Britain are as follows:
- To offer every student before sixth form at 16 or after school at 18 the opportunity to spend 6 months abroad immersed in a foreign language and an additional 6 months on an intensive computer programming course or another 6 month language immersion. Foreign languages and computational skills cannot be the preserve of the rich and such a program would help to close this skill gap, enabling all our children to compete in a globalised world. This would cost around
- Decentralising education further is vital to allowing our schools to innovate and for educational technology to transform education. As such, we propose taking the Academisation program one step further by granting every parent school vouchers worth the same amount as Academies receive today. These schools would be allowed to charge up to the school vouchers value and parents could use any additional school vouchers on additional tutoring, music lessons or educational technology. This would inject hundreds of millions a year into the educational technology sector, enabling children to reap the benefits of the cutting edge in educational technology. This would not cost a penny more than the current system.