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Top don: England's "backward" education system losing out to Asia due to 18th Century roots



Education in England is falling behind East Asian rivals because it is still hampered by its 18th century roots, according to a leading academic.

Professor Andy Green claims in a new study that a continuing fragmented and diverse schools system means the country is under-performing against its new competitors in the same way it did with other western powers centuries ago.

In his 1991 book ‘Education and State Formation’, the London University Institute of Education professor, examined the rise of school systems in Prussia, France, the USA and England. He concluded that education in this country was “backward” because it had not played the same part in nation building that it had in other western powers.

“Successful early industrialisation, occurring with minimum state intervention and owing little to educational provision, taught the wrong lessons, including a deep complacency about the importance of skills to economic development,” Professor Green said.

Because the state was consolidated early in Britain there was less incentive for education to develop and play its part. The result, he says is that England was among the last major powers to the 19th century to develop a national educational system and the most reluctant to put it under state control.

Now in a new edition of the book published today Professor Green has included studies of the development of education in Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan in the 20th century.

He concludes that the schools system is crucial to the modern growth and nation building for these Asian powers, in the same way that it was with their western forebears in continental Europe and the USA.

But the academic argues that England is continuing to lag behind – as shown by this month’s OECD survey of adult skills – this time because of its “veneration of free markets and hostility to the state”.

“Since the 1980s, all governments [in England] have been determined to marketise education so that the idea of education as an essential public good is progressively undermined and the inequalities which have always been the hallmark of English education become ever deeper,” he claims. 

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