Local schools: it's not just about education

Nicola Brown's picture
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Our children go to our local school, but neither I nor my husband did (as a single parent my mother needed her children to be close to her place of work, my husband's parents were early advocates of the choice agenda). One of the big effects, for both of us, is that we grew up rootless.

Neither of us has an attachment to the area we grew up in, and we don't know anybody who lives there now. We could have come from anywhere or nowhere. I think this lack of rootedness in a place is very common for middle class people: I once asked a class of university students who had grown up in the same place that their parents had, and none put up their hands. Partly this is because of geographical mobility in the job market. But it is also because of people seeing themselves, their families and their children as essentially atomised individuals, unconnected to the people around them, and not bound to a geographical community by ties of kinship, shared experience or common history.

Choosing a school away from where you live is a small, but significant part of that, because what it means is that you see your child as an individual player, a free agent who must move from place to place in search of the best for him or herself.

For the children, going to their local school is not just about the quality of the education they receive, and it is an impoverishment of the debate about local schools to see it only in those terms. Schools are part of a community, and by going to school with your neighbours, you build up shared experiences and a common history with them. It's a fine thing for my sons that there are respectively four and two children in their year at school who live in our road; and sad for those children that get shipped out by their parents to schools (more middle class schools, let us not mince our words) further away.

For those children, the place they grew up will be a backdrop for their home. It won't be peopled by their oldest friends, it won't be a landscape they know intimately as they walk its streets back and forth to school. They will lose one of the most important ways one can have of being rooted, grounded, knowing where you come from.

If schools are only viewed in terms of what they do for us educationally, we forget that they stand in (in our world at least) for the proverbial village that it takes to raise a child. And that can only increase the general atomisation of society, the sense that it is only as good as what you get out of it. And that is part of what gives the ConDem version of education policy such traction with the aspirations of the middle class.
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