It is, of course, possible to look at the state of education in England at the moment and think things are heading in the right direction. That is possible. It is a view some people take, and they take it quite honourably. It is their genuinely held belief based on their own interpretation of the evidence they see. It is, you won’t be surprised to hear, a view I disagree with. But I do not suggest that those who hold the differing view are in anyway bad people.
However, having said that, I would say that anyone who doesn’t recognise that the overwhelming belief among people who work in education is that the sector is in crisis.
Finance. Recruitment. Retention. Workload. Capacity. Accountability.
These and others are all areas where (within the sector) there is broad agreement that we face a crisis. So why, when that feeling is so widespread, so deeply felt and so eloquently expressed is the case that no-one outside the sector appear to care?
I don’t want to appear jealous or anything, but doctors are all over the media. We are voting to decide which set of bureaucrats will rule over us and you can’t escape it in any way. Why, if those who are most likely to know the facts believe that the education of our children is in a severe crisis, is it not wall to wall across our screen and broadsheets?
So I got to thinking why. And this is what I came up with.
According the latest data I can get hold of (2014) there are around 7.8 million children at state funded schools. This must mean a huge number of voters, surely? And its voters that get politicians interested, right? And if politicians are interested then it will be all over the media. That’s my theory, anyway. Doctors? Everyone uses doctors, so all over the media.
Problem is, if you look at the Family and Households data from the ONS for 2014 you see a slightly different picture start to emerge.
This equates to 13.8 million voters.
Well. I’m assuming they are voters. Which might not be the case.
There are (2014) 45.3 million registered voters. However, there are estimates that there are approximately 7.5 million potential voters who are not registered. Or less than 86% of those possible total vote is registered to vote.
Furthermore, as we saw in the last election only 66% of those registered to vote actually voted. So we can see that of the total possible vote less than 57% actually voted.
If we assume that our parents are no different to the rest of the electorate we now get a new figure of 7.9 million voters. So, still a sizable number of voters. But wait. How many of these would actually switch votes? Again, looking at 2015 we can see that roughly (very roughly) only around 25% of voters changed there party from 2010. In a volatile election (UKIP, LibDems, SNP etc). This brings down our potential of 7.9 million voters that politician would be interested in way down to under 2 million. Or around 3,750 per constituency. Roughly.
Now that is enough to change the result in around 75 constituencies, if they all changed vote from the current winner to the second place. But we know from the last election that things aren’t that simple when it comes to voter change.
So the likelihood is that even if the crises in education are real the calculation being made by politicians (of all parties) is that it is unlikely that those who they would perceive to have the most interest in it, the parents of children at school, will make any great difference to the outcome of an election.
Simply put, it’s not a big enough issue. Even when Gove was removed from the department it was not because of his policies and their effect on schools, it was because his perceived manner became the issue. He was described as “toxic”. It was about the personality that had the potential to contaminate the narrative of “not the nasty party anymore”. He, rather than the policy, was the problem.
So I suspect that for those that believe the crises are real the answer here is to try and make issue bigger than just education.
By the way, I do understand that I have thrown around a number of percentages and made assumptions about how people will act (that they will act as others have done before in the same ratios). I don’t suspect that the politicians actually do the sums. I think they just stick their finger in the air and see which way the wind blows. I just wanted to see if there were any numbers that would sustain the suspicion I had, which was that education isn’t considered important enough. I think I’m on the right track.