We have neglected the value of further education within our overall educational landscape for far too long, over numerous Governments and at least since the 1944 Education Act. That neglect is a legacy of the class system, especially in England. The children of privilege are continuing to inherit privilege and this is true not only in our educational institutions but the whole country. It is also true globally, by the way, as seen in the USA and China. Unless we embark on cultural change, involving partnerships in education between businesses, local and national government and the entirety of our education services, I see little prospect of remedying this wrong. Human flourishing, and an opportunity for fullness of life for all those in education, requires flexible and imaginative training that is based on aptitude.
Our trend towards a more inclusive approach to those with disabilities or special educational needs is witness to the way that comprehensive education has improved, and is a welcome step towards an education that seeks the fullest and most abundant possible life for each human being, regardless of their ability—one which draws the best out of every person and leads them out into life. But the academic selective approach to education, which prioritises separation as a necessary precondition for the nurture of excellence, makes a statement about the purpose of education that is contrary to the notion of the common good. At its best, education must be a process of shaping human beings to reach out for and enjoy abundant life, and to do so in such strong communities of widely varying ability but distinctive approaches to each student that they and all around them flourish. An approach that neglects those of lesser ability or, because of a misguided notion of “levelling out” does not give the fullest opportunity to those of highest ability, or does not enable all to develop a sense of community and mutuality, of love in action and of the fullness and abundance of life, will ultimately fail.
One area that I am most concerned about, which we on these Benches see most clearly through our parish system across the whole of England, and which was highlighted in Dame Louise Casey’s review into opportunity and social integration in December 2016, is how the handing down of poverty and deprivation between generations presents a barrier to achieving social cohesion as well as social justice.