Back again…

The half term week has flown by, as it always does. All those good resolutions about how much I’d get done….. oh well! At least I’ve spent some quality time with my mother, my PhD and catching up with current and former colleagues, and some OU friends.

It’s also given me a little more time to read the news. I was glad to see the call for Sex and Relationships Education to be made mandatory – giving young people the appropriate information is vitally important in safeguarding them, and in enabling them, at the appropriate age, to form healthy relationships themselves.

I am much less happy to see that the option for parents to withdraw their children from such lessons remains. We don’t allow parents to decide that their children don’t need to learn mathematics or English or science – why is this different? The kids whose parents have the mentality of it being somehow “bad” for them to be aware of how they came into the world, or to know the names of parts of their bodies and some of their functions, are almost certainly the ones who are most desperately in need of the lessons.  Sadly, there do exist children in homes where abusive behaviour is the norm, or where women are seen as second class citizens, or where they are encouraged to despise and condemn those who are different (be that difference sexual orientation, colour, religion or something else). We owe it to such children to help them grow beyond their family environment, not to collaborate in their confinement by it.  And whilst I would defend anyone’s right to practise their own beliefs (be they religious or secular), provided they do not involve harming or being hateful towards others, I do not buy into the idea that parents have the right to attempt to dictate their child’s beliefs by preventing them from hearing alternatives. I find it a bit strange that people are OK about this with religion, but not other belief systems;  I doubt anyone would approve if my parents had attempted to “make” me become a left wing vegetarian atheist in keeping with their views, but it’s seen as normal for, say, a fundamentalist Christian to do their best to make their child follow in their beliefs, and a big deal for the child to “rebel”.

I was also interested to read about Labour’s manifesto plan to cut university tuition fees. Now, I am no fan of the current fees – the impacts have been massive and wide-ranging, from (close to home, for me) the big effect on many of the OU’s students who cannot get a loan due to already having a degree, to the increased pressure on universities to abandon educational principles in the interests of keeping students happy by providing “value for money”, to the pressure on students to take high-earning jobs even if they would prefer more socially useful ones, to the psychologically off-putting effect on those from a non-traditional background.

But…. I don’t see there’s much clarity on where that money is coming from. The universities are not, generally, rolling in it or extravagant – they can’t make those sorts of savings without seriously compromising the “service”. If the universities are not to suffer, the money must be coming from taxation, somehow. Now no-one would be happier than me if an incoming government introduced a higher tax band for the top earners, or succeeded in extracting cash from tax-avoiding corporations – but I somehow suspect that they will not be the targets – a graduate tax, or even moving money from elsewhere in education, seem more likely.  There are undoubtedly savings to be made from inefficiencies in the current system, but would they really cover a third of the current costs at most universities?  If they have found a good source of money, I actually think there might be a case for doing something about the maintenance grant first, anyway;  people often forget that the tuition fees pay for just that – tuition – the student still has to live somewhere, and eat, and the provision there is woefully inadequate for those who cannot rely on the bank of mum and dad.

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