Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:24 am on 8th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 11:24 am, 8th December 2017

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about education, which we know is the lodestone of all the prosperity of our society. I will describe a very interesting ecosystem called poverty. What it takes for it to prosper is the failure of education to be written so large that, of the 9 million children in school at the moment, we will write off 3 million. Some 37% of our schoolchildren go through school and come out the other end, and you would never know they had been to school. That is a really interesting thing, because if you then go to the A&E department across the road and talk to the doctors and the patients, you will find many people there—in fact, the vast majority of them—were people who failed at school. Look at the cheap jobs that pay £6, £7, £8 or even £10: they will be done by people who did not do very well at school. If we spend £40 billion a year on our kids, we just throw away about £13 billion every year. This is a recipe for disaster.

We can go into our prisons and find that 80% of prisoners will be people who failed at school. I know this from my own experience. I declare an interest in that I am a failed child. I had an enormous amount of money spent on me when I got nicked and put into boys’ prisons and places such as that. As I said in the House before, they spent twice the amount of money on me that they would spend on sending someone to Eton.

We have this really weird thing. After the Second World War, a kind of inept socialism came in to join the inept capitalism we run. Our capitalism is a poor, underinvesting one and our socialism is equally inept. We have these two functions going on at the same time. We have a society that is an ecosystem for social failure. We do not have a bullish capitalism. We do not invest money in new businesses. Some 87% of all money lent by banks goes into buying and selling property. We have a really perverse world where we do not educate our bosses—our ruling class, if you would like to call them that—and our property classes into taking more risks with their money. They would rather put it into property and getting thousands of people flipping hamburgers. We are in this strange, self-defeating world.

It is interesting that when we joined the European Common Market in 1973, our productivity was about 30% behind Germany’s. It is now 35%. At that time we were ahead of the French in productivity but now we are behind them. We were well behind the Italians and now we are about 10% behind. All these strange things come together to produce this really weird world where we produce underachieving children who fill up our social security halls, prisons and A&E departments. We are sitting on this ecosystem and we are talking about it, but is there a Government brave enough to stand up and say that whatever amount of experiments and projects, however we rearrange the Budget, there needs to be enormous investment in getting us out of this situation? I do not want to be too dramatic, but I am sorry, I cannot help it.

If we look at what happened between 1939 and 1945, we see that we borrowed the future. We stopped paying off for that future only in 2006, when the man signed the last cheque to the American Government over the lend-lease. We borrowed the future to have a future. Unfortunately, we now need to declare war on our lack of education and on the strange way in which we think we can leave things to market forces. The most successful economy in the past 100 years has been the German economy. That was established in the 19th century by mass investment by Governments. If we look at the United States and all the new technology, we see that it has all grown out of stuff developed by government money given to universities. We need to wake up to this bell ringing, this tocsin: if we do not grab the opportunity, we will be having this discussion in 10 or 20 years’ time and saying, “Isn’t it a pity that we have so many poor people, that we have so many people failing at school?”. The one thing that I suggest we do is to have an enormous plan for how we get out of the grief, and to look at where the problems have come up thus far and what we are going to do about them. We need some real, big strategizing, and that is what I am suggesting we do.