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All well and good. Vocational training has long been neglected in the UK in favour of university expansion. Large numbers of l0w-grade universities have been created, as a result, providing low-quality degrees. Their intake has included many students who would have been much better occupied learning a trade. In that sense, therefore, the move back to vocational training is a move in the right direction.
On the other hand, the businesses involved are only interested in these schools as a source of trained recruits to their workforce.
However, we can legitimately ask is it the purpose of education to train company workforces? This conflicts head-on with the idea of education as a means of broadening the mind of the student and teaching him or her how to think. The latter view is based upon the premise that education is a good thing in itself. It does not need any further justification beyond itself in terms of producing recruits to the labour force. The training that is needed to prepare students for the workforce can be undertaken after they have first been educated in the broadest sense.
Another aspect of the view that education is an end in itself is the need to ensure that information provided to the student is impartial and comprehensive. Businesses, whose sole goal is to make a profit, have no interest in ensuring this. The information they provide will necessarily be selective and biased in their own interests.
After its landslide victory at the polls in 1997, the former socialist “New” Labour Party spared no pains to marry business with education. One minister, David Blunkett, famously opined that if students wanted to study medieval history, that was fine with him, but he saw no reason why the taxpayer should cough up the money to enable them to do so. Another Labour minister, Peter Mandelson, defined students as “consumers of the higher educational experience”. Views of this kind were widespread in the heyday of the industrial revolution in Victorian Britain. They were roundly condemned as philistine by Matthew Arnold in his “Culture and Anarchy” essays.
The need to ensure that education is impartial and comprehensive is also relevant in the case of another category of scholastic establishment much favoured by the “New” Labour Party, namely faith schools. These are schools run by religious organizations. How is it possible for religious schools, which are wedded to a specific religious and non-scientific view of the world, to provide impartial and comprehensive information to their students? The answer, it seems to us, is that it is not possible.
The Tory Party, which defeated the “New” Labour Party in elections last year, has maintained the “New” Labour promotion of faith schools and business-oriented academies. The churches and businesses involved are naturally delighted.
But is the result education?