Editorial - Jades of this world don't deserve excuses

17th April 2009 at 01:00
Education must never be for just the easy cases - that is another form of selection

Jade Goody isn't an easy subject for many teachers (TES Magazine). On the face of it, she was forsaken by education and saved by television. Big Brother - the most stupid, degrading and tedious programme ever conceived - rescued her. Learning played no part. Her dying determination to have her children privately educated could be interpreted as the last rejection of the rejected - a final two fingers for a system that failed her and thousands like her.

It is tempting and comforting to blame Jade's schooling on her background. The daughter of a drug-addicted pimp and a petty thief, her home provided little support. Jade appears to have spent more time caring for her parents than being cared for. So what chance did her teachers have? How could a child in her situation be expected to learn the rudiments of literacy and numeracy when the basics of survival were rather more pressing?

The problems faced by her and her teachers are undeniable. And they have been magnified by some to suggest that the entire state education system is not fit for purpose. That is nonsense. Jade's situation wasn't unique but it was hardly representative. Teachers depressingly familiar with stories like hers could fairly ask how colleagues in private schools would cope with a pupil like Jade. Most, of course, will never be tested. The genius of selection ensures that truly intractable problems are always someone else's.

Maintained schools in deprived areas do not have that luxury. They are expected to mend all the broken lives that come through their gates and are loudly condemned when they fail to do so. It is understandable that some schools - caught between the weight of expectation on the one hand and the sheer scale of disadvantage on the other - should take cover behind a justifiable excuse when it all gets too much. Understandable but mistaken.

Whatever progress has been made in schools in recent years, nothing seems to reduce the proportion of pupils who fail to get any GCSEs at all - the country's Jades. The number has stubbornly stuck at 8 per cent for more than 10 years. To accept this state of affairs, to retreat behind the usual social suspects - poverty, abuse, neglect, crime - is to say, in effect, that a permanent minority are uneducable. It is a more generous rehash of the old divisive argument that seeks to limit education for some but not for all. It is another form of selection.

No child is immune to all forms of education. Not every school can cater for every type of pupil. But if schools cannot provide all the answers, they cannot duck their responsibilities either. It may be tempting to highlight all the reasons why a disadvantaged child fails to make progress, but that can have the unintended effect of obscuring measures that others have tried and found to work. Education can transform the meanest of lives. It cannot be reserved for easy cases. The uneducated Jade Goody understood that more than most.

Gerard Kelly, Editor, E: gerard.kelly@tes.co.uk.

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