Ainley, P. 2016. Betraying a Generation: How Education is Failing Young People. London: Policy Press

Ainley, P. 2016. Betraying a Generation: How Education is Failing Young People. London: Policy Press (148 pages, £7.99)

‘This is a good book and I like it’ (W.H. Auden 1971).

Patrick Ainley has written a book that makes clear critical sense of what has been happening to education in recent years and provides insights warning us to change direction. His book is invaluable for those that would oppose the use of education to further fracture society. He gives us facts aplenty and a well-constructed argument. I am glad to say that the book won’t be his last word on this matter. It is an important contribution to our thinking about how to move forward. It is, I suggest, a driven book: driven by a growing sense of urgency and outrage that education has been used to deceive a generation. The betrayal is not confined to one country and readers will also find themselves driven to think and to act.

I now encounter: more and more advice on how to use the internet to gain qualifications, especially in business, with a promise that a ‘fulfilled life’ will ensue; more and more use of words such as ‘excellence’, ‘leadership’ and ‘successful’ to describe organisations and institutions wishing to generate a higher income from fees; and less and less use of words such as ‘co-operation’, ‘inclusion’, ‘community’ and ‘accessibility’ to remind us that learning is an activity with a social purpose.

Over the years, words and concepts (for example ‘improvement’) have become subject to official sanction. At one time the phrase ‘differentiation by outcome’ signified open and accessible questions in response to which students might engage with an examiner and offer for consideration something that had not been anticipated. Now we say ‘student outcome’, meaning scores obtained by providing ‘correct’ answers. In this model, educators become instructors and learners purchase chunks or parcels of education. Unfortunately, despite brilliant packaging and tempting labels, the contents do not satisfy.

For me, the book brought to mind recent changes to the GCSE system in England, from a support for education to a means of measurement. Politicians can impose expectations while examination boards trade on their perceived high standards and teachers are criticised if they do not deliver what their ‘customers’ have been promised. Standards, curricula and methods of assessment change at the whim of politicians while the gap between rich and poor widens. It is almost fifty-five years since C.B. Mcpherson warned us about possessive individualism. Despite its advocacy by so many people with the power to shape education, financial and social policies, its great promise turned out to have been destructive and education has been deployed to deceive as a guarantor of success.

The book provides us with far more than I have mentioned. It is a serious and comprehensive work that covers key players and events. Patrick Ainley’s references are wide and deep. The issues raised connect class, education, fiscal and monetary policy and remind us how experience, expertise, emotional commitment and a huge capacity for making education fulfilling and fun have been misused. The book also recharges us and points a way forward.

Cliff Jones, October 2016


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