There’s a common theme, albeit subtle, running through some of the recent education stories I’ve reported on.
And there’s a link to the challenges facing my profession, journalism, in the 21st century too.
The proliferation of choice and the free market which was brought into education by Margaret Thatcher and then accelerated in the Blair years means, inevitably, there are winners and losers.
And in this world where we pick and choose and loyalty is paper thin, even the winners aren’t winning all the time.
Take the news this week that a number of teaching assistant jobs in Leicester is under threat. It will be no consolation to the staff whose livelihoods are endangered but this has nothing to do with the recession, it’s simply the harsh realities of a changing market. One of the schools where a staffing review is taking place, Rolleston Primary School, in Eyres Monsell, has, apparently, lost more than half a class worth of pupils to the new Samworth Academy down the road.
And then there’s Riverside College, which Leicester City Council proposes closing because of low numbers. In the old days children simply went to their nearest school. In today’s world of winners and losers, Riverside suffers as schools such as Rushey Mead and Judgemeadow are vastly over-subscribed.
In less than a decade’s time the population of Leicester is predicted to have expanded so much that there will be hundreds more pupils to go round. But this will be too late for Riverside. It would cost taxpayers £8 million to keep Riverside open until then, the city council tells me, and they literally can’t afford to wait that long.
Job losses will inevitably follow here too. More losers in the loss of loyalty. Nonetheless, I’d put good money on the fact that within 10 years they’ll build a new secondary school in the city to cope with the higher numbers. Who will lose out to this new school? The merry-go-round will continue.
Several of my friends, people who I trained in journalism with in 2002, have already turned their back on the profession. Or rather, the industry turned its back on them. Sadly redundancies are never too far from the horizon for us too.
Again, although the recession has clearly made matters a lot more difficult, the process started before then. It wasn’t that long ago that families would buy their local evening paper as a matter of course. Hundreds of thousands would be bought each night, as the only place to find out the latest local sports results, read about births, deaths and marriages, and read what is happening down the street.
Now, with blogs, Twitter and the internet in general, everyone can be a journalist, sports results can be found online and, as families move much more from place to place for work, there is, at least for some, not the same sense of belonging to the local community as there was in days gone by.
As Peter Horrocks, the director of BBC World Service, says in his interesting blog on the challenges facing journalism:
Most journalists have grown up with a fortress mindset. They have lived and worked in proud institutions with thick walls. Their daily knightly task has been simple: to battle journalists from other fortresses. But the fortresses are crumbling and courtly jousts with fellow journalists are no longer impressing the crowds. The end of fortress journalism is deeply unsettling for us and requires a profound change in the mindset and culture of journalism.
People were once loyal to their nearest school and they were once loyal to their local paper. No more. In neither the world of education nor that of journalism can we rely on faithful allegiance.
But, although every redundancy is a personal tragedy, those who let themselves become disheartened by the end of loyalty, or fail to adapt, will, it seems to me, be the next losers. Increased fickleness and a greater range of choice in both education and journalism means those who want to succeed will ensure they improve the quality.
It will be a painful process but it might just work.