I visited the Ragged School Museum in Stepney the other day and it made me think about the direction that education and public policy is generally heading at the moment in England. The museum is situated on the site where Thomas Barnardo ran a school for poor children in the Victorian era; many children attended simply to get fed — the school offered free school meals. If you feel romantic about English society a hundred years ago, you’ll quickly lose your nostalgia visiting this museum; the poverty in the east end of London was chronic with infant mortality being very high and illiteracy the norm. I was shown a picture of a mother who had fourteen children, twelve of whom died before their tenth birthdays.
Obviously, the East End now is very different but you can already see that the social policies of this government are heading back towards a more ‘Victorian’ environment: welfare is being cut back, legal aid is being drastically curtailed, unemployment is rising and much more elitist education policies are being pursued; it feels like this government is only interested in helping the “academic” pupils with other pupils being left behind. But I suppose what strikes me is that education policies exist within the wider context of other social policies where the poor are being demonised in the way that they were in the Victorian era.