Society is being transformed. The welfare state that developed in the post-war years is under attack. Almost every element of it is being ‘marketised’. Services are sold off and contracted out. Private sector organisations (some for profit, others not) replace public provision. Competition and internal markets have become the taken for granted ‘common sense’. We are all customers now . . .
These phenomena are all visible in education – where schools, colleges and universities are forced to behave like businesses, whilst people of all ages are encouraged to see education as little more than an investment to enhance labour market employability.
Education is reduced to inputs, outputs, efficiency and the return on investment. We are told that the market provides us with choice and that choice gives us power – but at the same time the big decisions about education are increasingly made by people far removed from the local communities where the people who use and need public services really are. There is a gaping democratic deficit in how we decide the really big questions in education, and many of the small questions too.
In the City of Nottingham and County of Nottinghamshire all of these tendencies are evident. Over the years the areas have had more than their fair share of the ‘big ideas’ in education – none of which have really addressed the fundamental problems faced in the City and the County. Meanwhile, the corridors of power, where the key decisions are made, often seem more remote, and less accessible, than ever.
However, it is important to remember that none of this is inevitable. Education can look different – and there are different ways of thinking about how we identify and address both the big and small questions in education.
On Saturday 14th November (10am-4pm – FREE) at the University of Nottingham we will be discussing all these issues in more detail. Not only thinking about the type of education we want, but also the ways we can make sure that all have the opportunity to be ‘co-constructors’ of the education policies that shape local provision.
The keynote speaker is Hilary Wainwright.
Hilary is the author of ‘Reclaim the State: Experiments in Popular Democracy‘ and ‘Public Service Reform: But Not As We Know it‘. She has excellent first hand of experience of working with grassroots groups to democratise local services. This ‘Think Piece’ gives a great example of some of her thinking – Wainwright-TP-821
There will also be workshops of developing local partnerships and networks, using the media to support community based campaigns, developing democratic teacher professionalism and student voice (further details to follow).
The event is intentionally broad – aimed at students, parents, those who work in education and simply those interested in education. It will cover all phases and interests – from early years, through schools, FE and HE to community and adult. It will include discussion of both the City and the County (hence Nottingham-Shire).
The starting point for the day’s discussion is that education is a public (collective) good and that education for democracy must itself be democratic. Beyond that, there are no pre-determined outcomes, no preferred solutions and no blueprints.
Discussion will be about how we rediscover, reclaim and reinvent democratic public education in our communities – city and county. The concern is both with the what and how – what do we want, and how do we mobilise collectively to make it happen? There can be no ready answers because it will be for participants to decide for themselves both the destination and the route.
In order to help facilitate discussion there will be some external and whole session speakers (details to be announced). However, most of the day will be devoted to small group discussion, with plenaries to share thinking and formulate collective responses.
Come along – register here (places are limited)
Get involved in planning the day – drop me an email and become part of the conversation.
Email me to find out more or ask a question.
This event is part of the ESRC’s Festival of Social Science. I am grateful to the ESRC for financial support.