Educate everybody equally – especially through work experience

woodworkMilly Dawson, sixth form student, Heathfield Community College, writes…

’The purpose of education’ is a very broad topic, frequently discussed in our classrooms. When writing my speech for the SSAT annual lecture and debate in September, I initially suffered from writer’s block, which seems ridiculous as I am a student undergoing the educational process, and therefore should probably know the purpose of 13 years of education.

Education is the developmental device that aids our human transition towards adulthood, from entering primary school at the age of four or five. Those who have finished education are generally thought to become ‘human capital’, so isn’t the purpose of education simply to prepare students for their working lives? This was the basis of my speech – because it is what I believe to be true. The function of education, as the engine of our economy, is to manipulate us into becoming future human capital.

Having recently moved to Heathfield Community College for my sixth form career, I became aware of the vast difference between the standards of education that students receive throughout the country. In the last two years I feel as though I have excelled massively, and this is not entirely down to me. To me, this experience illustrates that the purpose of education is not being achieved. We do not live in an egalitarian educational system. Students across Britain are not being allowed equal opportunities.

Students across Britain are not being allowed equal opportunities

The sociologist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu stated that students from middle class backgrounds are more likely to be successful when they leave school, and this is due to four types of capital. Where the first three (educational, economic, and cultural) are pretty self-explanatory, it is the difference in social capital that most distorts the balance. This is where a student who is ‘better off’ is advantaged, as their pre-established social connections will provide them with boundless career opportunities. And therefore, in the schools with students that are less advantaged, the purpose of education is hindered. In a supposed ‘meritocracy,’ why are people allowed to shortcut the hard work and assume success? And why, in an education system that is meant to be allowing ‘equal opportunity for all,’ is the GCSE gap between rich and poor at 27%?

In an ideal world perhaps, schools would offer the social capital, the work experience, and the social connections that students have been deprived of. However, this ideal is blighted by the fact that only 20% of businesses actually do offer work experience to local schools. Therefore, the key purpose of education, to prepare students for the realities of the working world (which they will inevitably inherit), is undermined.

Only 20% of businesses offer work experience to local schools, which undermines the key purpose of education, to prepare students for the working world

Over 66% of employers have been found to value work experience as the most valuable characteristic that a potential employee could possess. But only a minority of privileged students are actually gaining access to these opportunities. I am aware of this first hand, as I had applied to 12 different firms for work experience, and was rejected by 11 of them. In comparison to Bourdieu’s middle-class student, the profound purpose of education is undermined, as students are not given the same opportunities across the board, ultimately allowing the potential of those who are not so privileged to dwindle.

But while our education system is a sort of machine producing good human capital, we are not passive cogs in that machine. I envision students as the creative spanners building, dismantling and rebuilding the framework of our future economy.

So in order to achieve our education system’s profound purpose, all students should have equal access to work experience. This will not only teach them invaluable skills that are not necessarily taught in the classroom, but will also benefit them in long term, boosting their future university and career prospects. It’s about everybody being educated equally.

We were delighted to give Milly the chance to speak at our recent annual lecture and debate. Her school Heathfield Community College is connected to thousands of other schools across the country through it’s participation in the SSAT network. Find out more about getting involved.

Heathfield head Caroline Barlow contributed to our recent school finance publication Triumph in adversity. Download a copy.

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