Education

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The Post-Brown Realignment and the Structure of Partitioned Publics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 10:00pm in

Public schools are crucial infrastructures of the reproduction of social inequality and the US carceral state. ...

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Cartoon: Billionaires fund human intelligence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 9:50pm in

So much of AI feels like gilding the lily, adding unnecessary bloat to things that worked well enough already. I'm not the first to make this comparison, but AI-assisted software reminds me of Clippy, the famously annoying animated paperclip from Microsoft Word who constantly offered unwanted help. And the models are being trained on the stolen work of artists and writers who are already struggling to find new ways of earning a living.

Receive my weekly newsletter and keep this work sustainable by joining the Sorensen Subscription Service! Also on Patreon.

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The Transformations of Katherine Dunham

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/06/2024 - 3:34am in

The possibilities open to an anthropologist engaging with her fieldwork in a creative way is what drew me to the Dunham Technique in the first place....

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Q and A with Naila Kabeer on Renegotiating Patriarchy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 8:47pm in

In this interview with Anna D’Alton (LSE Review of Books), Naila Kabeer discusses her new book, Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradoxforthcoming from LSE Press in September. The book examines positive social change in Bangladesh over the past 50 years, in particular the factors that enabled significant and rapid gains for women in areas like health, education and employment within a deeply patriarchal society.

LSE Festival Power and Politics 2024

Join Naila Kabeer, Monica Ali, Phillip Hensher and Sarah Worthington for an event, Power and Storytelling on Saturday 15 June as part of LSE Festival.

Renegotiating Patriarchy: Gender, Agency and the Bangladesh Paradox. Naila Kabeer. LSE Press. 2024.

Bangaldesh Paradox naila kabeer book coverWhat is the “Bangladesh paradox”?

Bangladesh has been described as a new nation but an ancient land. For much of its history, Bangladesh was colonised by foreign powers, first by Hindu and Buddhist rulers from other parts of India, then by the Moghuls, followed by the British. When the British left in 1947, what is now Bangladesh was incorporated into Pakistan but occupied the status of a quasi-colony. It fought a war of liberation before finally becoming independent in 1971.

The long history of colonial extraction meant that Bangladesh embarked on independence as one of the poorest countries in the world. It had extremely high fertility rates which made it one of the  most densely populated countries in the world. It had a largely illiterate population that eked out a living in subsistence agriculture. It also had a very patriarchal culture, one it shared with the northern plains of India, that gave rise to very strong son preference and a tradition of discrimination against daughters. The high fertility rates in the country were partly due to the pressure on women to have enough children to ensure a minimum number of sons, pressure which resulted in very high rates of maternal mortality. Bangladeshi women were described by a Population Crisis Committee report from the 1980s as “poor, powerless and pregnant”, with the lowest status among women from the 99 countries covered by the report.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time [of independence in 1971] as an “international basket case”[] Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history.

Bangladesh was regarded by the donor community at the time as an “international basket case”, a country would need foreign aid into the foreseeable future if it was to survive, let alone thrive. Yet by the 1980s, fertility rates began declining at a speed that set a record in demographic history, there were striking improvements in health and nutrition and educational levels began to rise. What stood out about these changes is the disproportionate gains made by women and the resulting decline in gender inequality.  So the term “Bangladesh paradox” is used as shorthand to describe the remarkable progress that the country made in spite of high levels of poverty and poor levels of governance.

There is one other element to the paradox that is less widely remarked on that interests me. The improvements observed in gender equality came at a time when the country had begun experiencing a steady rise in a very orthodox version of Islam, one imported from the Middle East and antithetical to many of the gains women had made.

Q: What aspects of the Bangladesh paradox does your book, Renegotiating Patriarchy address?

There have been many explanations of the Bangladesh paradox, but they tend to focus on the role of powerful actors such as the state, the donors and the non-governmental sector. They all have a part to play, but at the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people. This hidden story of change takes as its starting point the evidence emerging in the literature that there had been a significant decline in son preference and a move towards more egalitarian preferences, with many parents satisfied with only having daughters. This was in sharp contrast to India where parents were seeking to reconcile their desire for fewer children with the practice of female-selective abortion to ensure that their children were only, or mainly sons.

At the heart of the story I tell in this book is what I believe to be the main driving force behind the changes we associate with the paradox: the ideas, values and motivations of ordinary people.

Clearly there had been some kind of shift in the structures of patriarchy in Bangladesh: girls were now more likely to survive the early years of life than boys (the norm in much of the world); they were more likely to be enrolled in primary and secondary school than boys and their labour force participation rates had been rising consistently, overtaking those of India and Pakistan.

My book sets out to find out what led ordinary people make the changes in their lives which coalesced into the Bangladesh paradox. And because there was evidence accumulating in various studies that women had played an important role in making these changes happen, I was particularly interested in this aspect of the story. Given Bangladesh’s patriarchal traditions, I wanted to know what motivated women to seek change and how they were able to bring it about when the changes they sought seemed to go against the grain of these traditions.

Q: What was your methodological approach and how did you arrive at it? 

The book is interdisciplinary in its approach and pluralist in its methodology. As I noted earlier, there have been many “big picture” stories about the Bangladesh paradox. What has been missing are the multitude of “small picture” stories from ordinary men and women. A great deal of the book is made up of these stories, gathered from my own research and from research that others have carried out. By examining the experiences and motivations related by different generations of women and men over successive periods of time, I was able to trace the unfolding of the Bangladesh paradox through the shifts in attitudes that they reported, the actions they took in response to survival imperatives and the changes in their aspirations as new possibilities came into view.

These narratives form the core of my analysis, but I draw on a range of other sources of information as well. I go back into the history of Bangladesh to understand the more tolerant version of Islam that had flourished in the country, an amalgam of the various religions that had co-existed in the region and that may have been a factor in allowing women to make the gains they did. I draw on secondary literature to understand the evolution of the country’s policy and legal architecture, piecing together the story of the economic changes that allowed the country to transcend its past poverty. These constitute the structural context within which individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to “renegotiate” the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

Individuals and groups were able to exercise certain forms of agency but not others, which allowed women to ‘renegotiate’ the more oppressive aspects of patriarchy rather than to overthrow it.

In addition, woven into my account of the qualitative explanations that men and women gave for their behaviour are statistical findings that helped me to distinguish between the explanations that embodied the experiences of the few, perhaps those who were ahead of their time or lagging behind, and those of the many whose experiences were widespread enough to shape the larger statistical trends.

Q: A central research question in the book is around the decline for son preference among families and communities in Bangladesh. What were the reasons for son preference?  

Bangladesh is a part of a larger region that Deniz Kandiyoti refers to as “the belt of classic patriarchy” stretching from North Africa across the Middle east and the northern plains of the South Asian sub-continent, including Bangladesh. These countries may have very different histories, different religions, different economic trajectories, but they share certain features of their gender and kinship relations in common. They are characterised by patrilineal descent so that the family name and property pass through the male line. There are strict restrictions on women’s mobility outside the home so they are confined to reproductive and home-based activities, dependent on male breadwinners for most of their lives.  Daughters are married off early and leave the parental home to be absorbed into their husband’s lineage. Sons, on the other hand, carry on the family line, inherit its property, engage in productive work and look after their parents as they get older. Not surprisingly, these societies are characterised by a strong preference for sons, with lower levels of female education and labour force relative to male and, in contrast to the rest of the world, higher levels of female mortality, particularly in the younger age groups.

A woman in Bangladesh wearing an orange sari holds a tool and looks off camera with trees behind herA woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

Q: In your research, you discovered that there was a decline in son preference in the past forty or fifty years. What were some of the reasons for that decline? 

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh. I spent a year doing field work in a village in Bangladesh where it became clear to me that women had a particularly strong preference for sons over daughters, both to assure their status in their husband’s family and because sons represented security in old age. After my PhD, I joined the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex and continued to do research in South Asia. I was aware of the various studies from Bangladesh documenting, among other things, increasing gender equality in survival rates, health, nutrition and education. To find out why this was happening, I went back to the village in which I had conducted my PhD field work.

My interest in son preference goes back to 1980 when I was doing my PhD at LSE and researching the reasons for high fertility in Bangladesh.

What I found makes up the concluding sections of the book where I also touch on why a similar shift in son preference had not been happening in India. The full answer on the reasons for this shift, detailed in the book, are complicated and tangled up with the overall story of the Bangladesh paradox. The short answer revolves around changing intergenerational relationships and the belief on the part of parents that sons had become more focused on their own wives and children to the neglect of their parents, that daughters-in-law were not as subservient as they used to be and that daughters are now not only regarded as more loyal to their parents than sons. They are perceived as being more concerned about their welfare, but also, with the rise in their income-earning opportunities, in a better position to help them materially. It was mothers who were often at the forefront of this revaluation of daughters.

Q: You deal with the rise in women’s labour force participation in your book. What was its significance?  

It has been very significant. There is an interesting contrast here between Bangladesh and India. India has one of the highest per capita growth rates in the world but its female labour force participation has been declining steadily and is now among the lowest in South Asia. In fact, the jobless nature of India’s growth has seen high levels of unemployment among men as well. Although Bangladesh’s growth rates are also high, it remains far poorer than India.  However, it has had a more labour-intensive pattern of growth and generated opportunities that have benefited women as well as men. Its microfinance programmes have allowed women to take up income-generating activities that could be carried out within or near the home. Its export-oriented garment sector had a largely female labour force. Community-based services, including those provided by NGOs, hire large numbers of women. In Bangladesh, women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households, has made daughters appear less of a burden to their families and has given women the motivation to resist the efforts of Islamist forces to curtail their opportunities.

Women’s ability to make a direct contribution to household income has been an important factor in enhancing their voice and agency within their households

Q: Do you think that the positive social changes, including the progress on gender equality that the paradox describes will be sustained in the future? 

It’s hard to say. I feel somewhat pessimistic but not just in relation to Bangladesh. The whole world seems to have become darker – it is more unequal, there are more wars, more natural disasters, more financial crises and, of course, accelerating climate change. And the same market fundamentalism that impededes our ability to put things to right in the rest of the world is also holding it up in Bangladesh.

We have seen inequality rising in Bangladesh over the last decades. Whereas in the early years after independence, it was possible to make important gains on the health front with low-cost vertical programmes, we now need broad-based health services so that everyone can be assured of decent care when they need it. Quantity in educational provision has been achieved at the expense of quality, and quality has been undermined by compromising on a secular curriculum in deference to Islamist forces. We have had multiparty democracy since 1990 and mainly civilian rule, but when the same party has been in power since 2009, we know it is not a very healthy democracy. Meanwhile, the rise of an intolerant Islamic orthodoxy has continued and may have been given fresh oxygen by what is happening to Palestinian people in Gaza today. I am not sure whether the pace of social progress we saw in the past will be sustained in the future. But who knows? Bangladesh has defied the odds before; it may do so again.

Note: This interview gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Main image credit: A woman in Subarnachar, Noakhali, Bangladesh. Photo © Jannatul Mawa.

 

In praise of pluralism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2024 - 3:19am in

from Lars Syll Recognition of the speculative value of counterfactualizing provides the grounding for a defense of theoretical pluralism in economics. The existence of multiple contending theories in economics is inconvenient, of course. It casts doubt on the truth content of the counterfactual scenarios generated by the predominant approach and challenges the predominant causal claims […]

Schools are killing creativity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/06/2024 - 4:15pm in

Tags 

Education, Ethics

I have posted a new YouTube video this morning, and have returned to the theme of education. In this video I wonder what would happen if we had an education system that told people ‘you can do that’ rather than saying ‘these are the rules that you must follow’? What might happen if we allowed all the resulting creativity to flow?

The audio version is:

The transcript is:

If you ask a child to draw a picture once they've reached the age where they can basically hold a crayon, they will draw you a picture. It may not be the most wondrous work of art that you've ever seen, but in their imaginations, they have delivered you what you asked for, a picture of a dog, their parent, or whatever else it might be.

Or they will explain exactly what they think the picture is about in very clear language, to the extent that they've got it. And that's an amazing ability.

It’s staggering because if you ask an 18-year-old to paint a picture, most of them will point-blank refuse. They'll say, “I can't”, or “I've been taught about the rules of art, and I now know that I can't apply them, and therefore I can't paint a picture.”

What does that say? It says that school removes a child's creativity.

This, by the way, is also true of storytelling. If you ask a five-year-old to tell a story in a reception class at a school, they will. If you ask an 18-year-old to tell a story, most of them will be completely tongue-tied or say, “That's beyond my ability.”

I actually talked to some 18-year-olds recently about this very point and asked them, when was the last time they wrote anything creative? And their claim was that they hoped never to do so ever again in their lives. That was now behind them. School had removed that spark which they had at the age of five.

I find that profoundly worrying. We live in a world which clearly has to go through a process of change. Must do so if it is going to survive. It's impossible that it does anything else. That requires creativity and imagination from people to get through that process of change that will be demanded of us.

And yet, school basically teaches people that there are rules they must comply with, the whole purpose of which is to remove that creativity and make the person compliant with those rules, with the orders they've got, with the expectation of existing society, and the hierarchy within it.

What are we doing to children when we remove their creativity?

When you remove their ability to write creatively.

Maybe when you take away even, in the vast majority of people's cases, their ability to write a song.

Most of us will never try because we think we can't.

Suppose. we had an education system that told people you can, that was designed to make that possible, that explained how to release creativity and made that its focus rather than rule.

What will we then end up with?

Well, resilient people.

People who could cope with change.

People who could manage different careers, which many of us will have during the course of our lifetimes.

Who could manage changing life circumstances because they can cope.

See their way through it because they don't think there are rigid rules they've got to comply with, but that there are creative opportunities that they must deal with.

I believe we are selling our children short.

I believe we're selling our young people short.

I believe we're selling ourselves short by saying we can't do things because there are rules that stop us.

Blow the rules, liberate people to explore their creativity. That is the most important thing that education can do, and I don't think we're getting anywhere close to succeeding at that goal.

 

University leaders could learn from their students’ ethical clarity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/06/2024 - 4:55am in

University encampments invite us into a different way of doing education that defies institutional control. When you enter the encampment, you see colour: the red, green, black and white of Palestinian flags and posters and the red, yellow and black of Aboriginal flags, clusters of multicoloured tents and the vibrant hues of children’s artwork. If Continue reading »

Thinking of Pursuing a PhD in Economics? Info on Graduate School and Beyond

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/05/2024 - 9:00pm in

Tags 

Education

Photo of three young students writing a formula on a green blackboard with white chalk.

Becoming a PhD economist can provide a fulfilling and financially secure career path. However, getting started in the field can be daunting if you don’t know much about the preparation you’ll need and the available job opportunities. If you’re wondering what it means to be an economics researcher or how to become one, please read on. We’ll review how to prepare for a career in economics research, what an economics PhD program entails, and what types of opportunities it might bring. Economic education is a core component of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s mission to serve the community. To empower would-be economists, this post provides information for students who seek a career in economics research. We hope this information will be helpful to students interested in economics, regardless of their background and economic situation.  This information is most applicable to students applying to programs in the United States.  

The Breadth of Economics Research 

Academic disciplines conduct research in different ways, so it’s important to have a basic understanding of the types of questions economists ask and how they approach answering them. There are many definitions of economics, but a broadly useful one is the study of how people, organizations, and governments make decisions under different constraints, and how those decisions may affect their outcomes. 

When answering these questions, economists seek to ground their analyses in models and to be quantitatively precise about the effects they assign to any given cause. The range of topics economists can study is wide, but the accepted approaches to answering questions are stricter. Some examples of what economists might ask: 

  • How do different public housing programs affect the children who live there? 
  • Does a certain type of law encourage businesses to innovate? 
  • How will a change in the interest rate affect inflation and unemployment rates? 
  • How much does affordable health insurance improve people’s health? 
  • How can poor countries eradicate poverty? 

There are many different subfields within economics, including, but not limited to behavioral, econometrics, energy/environmental, development, financial, international, monetary, public, and urban economics. You can familiarize yourself with the latest work in economics by subscribing to working paper series, such as NBER’s New This Week or the New York Fed’s Staff Reports. To get an idea of the breadth of questions economists can answer, you could listen to Stephen Dubner’s “Freakonomics Radio” podcast. You may also want to explore the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics blog, VoxDev, or VoxEU.  

What Is a PhD Program Like?   

Economics PhD programs typically last five to seven years. Unlike masters programs, they are often fully funded with a stipend, though most require students to complete teaching assistant and/or research assistant (RA) work as part of their funding package. In the first two years, students take classes, many of which are mathematically demanding. The rest of the program can include additional classes but is primarily devoted to original research with the aim of producing publishable papers that will constitute the dissertation.  

Faculty advisors are a central part of PhD programs, as students look to them for guidance during the research process. Economics PhD programs are offered within university economics departments, but there are similar programs in public policy and business schools. You can look at their websites to understand any differences in coursework and subsequent job placements. 

What Can You Do with an Economics PhD? 

Upon graduation, students can obtain jobs in a variety of industries. Many PhD students hope to become university professors. Governments and public policy-related institutions such as the Federal Reserve System, the U.S. federal government, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also hire economists to work on policy, lead programs, and conduct research. Finally, economics PhD graduates can also find employment at a variety of private sector companies, including banks, economic consulting firms, and big tech companies. The pay for these different positions can vary. According to the American Economics Association (AEA), the average starting salary for economics assistant professors in 2022-23 was approximately $140,000 at PhD granting institutions and $98,000 at BA granting institutions. 

Programs often publish the placements of their PhD graduates, so you can look online to see specific employment outcomes. See, for example, the University of Maryland’s placements. Ultimately, economists are highly regarded as authorities on a variety of topics. Governments, nonprofits, philanthropic foundations, financial institutions, and non-financial businesses all look to economists to answer important questions about how to best achieve their goals. Thus, earning an economics Ph.D. can potentially help you to influence issues that are important to you. 

Preparing for an Economics PhD Program 

There are several components to an economics PhD program application: college transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and personal statements. Please download the Appendix linked below to learn more about transcripts and letters of recommendation. The Appendix details ways in which you can select coursework, obtain research experience, and develop relationships to position yourself for success as a PhD applicant.  

If you feel that you are too far along in your academic career to take enough of the classes described in the Appendix, this does not necessarily preclude you from pursuing an economics PhD. For example, it’s possible to take some of these classes through a master’s program, or through a pre-doctoral RA job. Some pre-doctoral RA jobs, such as the one here at the New York Fed, may enable you to take classes in preparation for graduate school. If you are concerned about your transcript, reach out to an economist at your university for advice; program standards for coursework and grades vary, and it’s a good idea to get more personalized advice. 

Research Experience  

If you’re interested in becoming an economics researcher and applying to PhD programs, it’s best to get research experience as soon as possible. Working as an RA is a great way to learn how to conduct research and get a better idea of whether it’s the right career path for you. Additionally, it can help you obtain a letter of recommendation for graduate school applications and improve your qualifications.  

All types of academic research can be enriching, but it’s beneficial to gain experience working directly with an economist. To find a position, you can reach out to professors whose work you find interesting or find an RA program at your school. Typical RA tasks may involve data collection and cleaning, as well as running analyses and creating charts to represent results. This is where coding skills become crucial; having taken math, statistics, and econometrics courses will also enable you to take on more responsibilities. 

You may also have the opportunity to conduct your own research, possibly under the supervision of a professor at your university. This research could be self-initiated or part of a course such as a thesis workshop. Self-directed research is a great opportunity to learn about all stages of the research process. It’s also an excellent opportunity to create a writing sample for graduate school applications. Ultimately, though, your motivation for conducting your own research project should be that you want to answer a question.  One thing economists have in common is a love of answering questions using data and theory. 

Research experience is also often obtained after completing an undergraduate or master’s degree. Taking on a full-time RA position before applying to PhD programs is very common and can make you a more competitive applicant. You may either get an RA job working for a professor or participate in a pre-doctoral RA program.  

Research assistant programs are more structured than positions with individual professors or projects, which could be helpful. Universities, parts of the government, think tanks, research organizations, and the Federal Reserve System are all good places to look for research assistant programs. To help you decide which opportunities are most desirable, you may want to ask potential employers: Where do people in this program tend to go afterward? Will I be working directly with an economist? How much of my time will be spent on academic research work? Will I be able to take classes as part of this program? Considering whether an economist will be able to evaluate your performance is an important factor for recommendation letters. The ability to take classes, either through tuition reimbursement or waivers, can also be an important benefit. 

The Research Analyst program here at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York is one example of these programs and you should check it out here. The Federal Reserve Board of Governors also has a large program, and many other regional Federal Reserve Banks have similar programs. In addition, the PREDOC website and the NBER post listings of RA opportunities. J-PAL and IPA also tend to recruit RAs for economic development projects. Another source of RA opportunities is the @econ_ra account on X. 

Who Should Get a PhD in Economics? 

A PhD may not be for everyone, but it is for anyone—people of all genders, religions, ethnicities, races, and national origins have PhDs in economics. Many economists majored in economics, but others majored in math, physics, or chemistry. Because economics is such an integral part of policymaking, it is important that economists come from a wide range of backgrounds so policy can be stronger and more effective. The inclusion of differing perspectives helps ensure that the contribution of economists to work in public policy, academia, and beyond effectively serves the broadest range of society. 

Kasey Chatterji-Len is a research analyst in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Research and Statistics Group.

Anna Kovner is the director of Financial Stability Policy Research in the Bank’s Research and Statistics Group.

How to cite this post:
Kasey Chatterji-Len and Anna Kovner, “Thinking of Pursuing a PhD in Economics? Info on Graduate School and Beyond,” Federal Reserve Bank of New York Liberty Street Economics, May 31, 2024, https://libertystreeteconomics.newyorkfed.org/2024/05/thinking-of-pursui....

Disclaimer
The views expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or the Federal Reserve System. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of the author(s).

As China-Australia ties fray, should Canberra keep its friends close, its enemies closer?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/05/2024 - 4:50am in

If China is indeed a power to be worried about, wouldn’t Australia want to know as much about it as possible, perhaps even know what it is up to? Blocking or reducing interaction with China or other countries only reduces Australia to a petty, hollow state that is susceptible to misunderstandings. Just a few years Continue reading »

Report on Closure of Private School is ‘Attempt by Conservative Establishment to Scare Voters Away From Labour – and has Nothing to do With Party’s VAT Payment Plans’ 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/05/2024 - 7:34pm in

Following Labour’s announced plans to introduce VAT payments on private school fees, the right-wing establishment have been trying to suggest that it will be a disastrous policy for all. 

When the Telegraph got wind of a private school closing, they jumped on the story with the headline, ‘First private school to close down ahead of Labour’s tax raid’.

But how true is it that a school closing under a Conservative government is the fault of a Labour policy that hasn’t happened yet? 

Firstly, my heart goes out to the pupils, teachers, and parents of Alton School. It must be awful to be part of a school that has to close down - particularly those sitting exams next year. 

The closure announcement on the Alton School website blames a "continued decline in pupil numbers". Photo: Alton School

However, the idea they’re closing because of future Labour policies doesn’t really stack up. 

Alton School, formerly called Alton Convent School, has been struggling for years. According to their accounts, the school was in deficit every year from 2016 – 2021, despite receiving £440,000 in trustee donations and over £211,000 in government Covid grants. Without these donations and grants, 2022 would also have run at a deficit. 

In 2018, Alton School were hoping to benefit from a cash injection of £3.1 million following the sale of some land, but over the years the value fell to £1 million, and by the end of 2022, they were still waiting for the sale. They were hoping this would “improve the school’s cash liquidity and facilities”. 

The same year, the auditors wrote, “in a very competitive market for independent education in the Hampshire/Surrey area the charity remains mindful of maintaining pupil numbers”. So, even in 2018, the they recognised the school was struggling. 

In 2021 the auditors highlighted that Covid had an impact on the school’s ability to remain.

As mentioned in the Telegraph article, a new head was brought in last year to try and improve the situation, but that wasn’t enough to attract more pupils. With 11 other private schools within a 10 mile radius, and two very good state secondaries in the same town, Alton School were in an incredibly competitive market. 

One local resident said there had been rumours that the school had also been struggling to recruit teachers and that “it lost its way when it changed its name and no one knew what it was”, referring to the name change from Alton Convent School to Alton School.  

A statement on the Alton School website said the trustees had proposed the school would close at the end of the academic year and its nursery would close on August 31.

“This proposal is based on a continued decline in pupil numbers, to the extent that the school has now become unviable. This is due to a combination of adverse political and economic factors," the statement reads.

“Our community has served Alton and the surrounding area since 1938 and it is with deep sadness that we may be unable to continue providing this education in the future.”

As Conservative policies impact the cost of living across the income spectrum, data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies show that even the top 10% of earners have less disposable income now than they did in 2019, which will undoubtedly impact some people’s ability to afford private school fees. 

Fortunately other local schools, both State and Private have reached out to pupils at Alton School as they have places that need to be filled. 

It’s worth noting that many state schools are facing closures due to falling birth rates and lack of funding. According to the Office for National Statistics, over 80% of primary schools and 75% of secondary schools are under capacity. 

So I think we can safely say that if the school has been struggling since 2016, has been trying to turn things around for several years and has highlighted the Covid pandemic’s impact on the school’s ability to remain, all while under a Conservative government, it really isn’t Labour’s VAT plan that’s caused their closure!  

As one former parent said, “My two kids went here in 2021. Lovely school, but enrolments were a problem even then. Very sad that it closed but it was inevitable and certainly nothing to do with Labour!” 

I fear we will hear many more stories like this one, as the Conservative establishment fight to scare voters away from Labour, while also trying to safeguard their own inevitable interests in keeping Private schools VAT free! 

So, make sure you look behind the headlines, and consider the backdrop behind any school closure stories because schools close all the time - both Private and State. And if parents who can afford for their children to be in the 7% who attend private schools, are feeling the squeeze of the cost of living crisis, remember which government has been in power for 14 years. 

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