‘True worth’ in the education market

“In future we could try to link qualifications to tax data to demonstrate the true worth of certain subjects.” Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary (Jan 2015).

Flash forward to 2020 and 17 year-old Amina is meeting her progress coach at the end of the college day.

Coach: Hi, Amina. So, how’s my favourite top percentile student?

Amina: Fine thanks.

Coach: Seriously, congratulations on your promotion. I knew you had it in you.

Amina: Yes, I’m really pleased

Coach: Quite right, you’re really well placed now to get into a top-rated RG+ medschool.

Amina: And those extra creds will certainly come in handy.

Coach: Exactly, I know you’ve earned this year’s tuition already and it looks like you’re close to covering freshman costs at medschool too. That’s great.

Amina: I was thinking…

Coach: What’s up? You want to pick up a third elective? Build up the cred-hoard?

Amina: No…

Coach: Because those bio-engineering projects of yours are real earners and there’s no limit to how many you can do…

Amina: I was thinking I might like to try something else.

Coach: Something else? You are pretty busy…

Amina: I was thinking maybe…philosophy. I think I’d enjoy it.

Coach: Philosophy?

Amina: Well, often when I ask things in bio-studies, the teacher says “that’s more of a philosophical question” and there’s no time to go into it.

Coach: You realise that philosophy is about as low-cred as you can get and you’d need to join a class of mid-decilers.

Amina: Yes but I think I’d find it interesting.

Coach: Interesting? But you’ve seen those middlers sitting around just…talking and ‘expressing their opinions’ or whatever. Don’t you think it’s all a bit self-indulgent?

Amina: Well…maybe but I thought I might give it a go.

Coach: And where would it lead? You know how much you need top creds across the board. Your parents aren’t exactly high-raters and everyone is expecting a lot of you. You’ve got everything: student premium, straight stems, rapid value added, rated electives…

Amina: I know and I’m not suggesting dropping stems.

Coach: Look, you’re doing really well and I don’t want you to jeopardise your top percentile status with such a low-yield activity, please don’t do anything rash.

Amina: But I’ve given it quite a bit of thought.

Coach: You’ll have plenty of time to bla-bla and explore your inner self once you’ve made grad-status. Besides, this could look bad for me too; I could lose my perf-bonus and I’ve been counting on that.

Amina: I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to be awkward, I’m just curious and I want to study something different, to study in a different way…

Coach: Listen, let’s write this session off. I’ll take it off-book and reschedule for next week to give you time to think.

Amina: Time to think?

Coach: Yes, time to think.

Amina: That’s exactly what I’m talking about…

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
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3 Responses to ‘True worth’ in the education market

  1. David Pavett says:

    Very good. Nicki Morgan’s idea that the “true worth” of a subject can be determined by tax data only makes sense if “worth” is drained of every connotation except a monetary one. This seems a rather long way from Gove’s rhetoric about having teachers enthused by their subjects passing on that enthusiasm to their pupils. In NM’s world the wise pupil will ask the teacher at the beginning of each new topic “Can you tell us what this topic is worth in terms of market value” and would know how much effort to put into studying it as a result. The idea of tax evaluated educational worth is horrendous and reveals truly frightening picture of where politicians like Nicki Morgan would like to take education.


    • Thanks David. It does seem that market-speak and market-think are extending deeper and deeper into English education. Value is seen mainly in economic terms and no part of the system is immune from being regarded as a tradeable commodity. This is what my series of ‘market madness’ posts tries to describe. Thanks for commenting!


  2. Elly Tobin says:

    Eddie you have given me such a good laugh this morning. Spot on!



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