State education that is about the good of a small minority
The Year 10 students are expected to understand utilitarianism. They tend to express the ideas of Jeremy Bentham in crude terms, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, but it means that they grasp the idea of ordering society in a way that serves the interests of the majority. They might argue that parliamentary democracy is conducted on the basis of utilitarian principles, that government decisions are intended to reflect the will of the majority, that elections are intended to discern what will bring the greatest happiest of the greatest number.
Were secondary education to be organised on the basis of utilitarian principles, school life might be very different.
For children of poorer families, education may offer the only prospect of achievement, the only prospect of fulfilling their potential. A utilitarian approach to education would be focused on enabling as many disadvantaged children as possible to achieve as much as possible. It would ask what educational practices would bring the greatest happiness of the greatest number.
Utilitarianism would suggest that If there are individual children who disrupt lessons, if there are children whose behaviour makes disproportionate demands upon the time of the teacher, if there are individual children who bully, intimidate, and make miserable the other students of a school, then the point must come when the greatest good of the greatest number takes priority. How can there be justification for an approach that favours the good of a small number of anti-social students over the good of the overwhelming majority of well-behaved students?
Of course, the ideal response is to seek the greatest good of everyone. The answer is to resource schools in such a way that there are appropriate supports in place for disruptive children. An ideal system would employ staff to ensure that children who are disruptive, children who have a history of behavioural issues, can remain within schools, while at the same time ensuring that the other children have the full opportunities to which they are entitled. The greatest number would be everyone, or almost everyone, having the opportunity to be students in their local school.
However, in the circumstances of an underfunded education system, where years of austerity have pared back school staffs, requirements for schools to continue to have on their rolls anti-social children, without having the resources to properly fulfil those requirements, can become requirements that disadvantage the majority.
To those who have to watch, it can seem that education is for the good of a small minority. Ultimately, however, the present system can often be to the good of no-one, neither those who cause disruption, nor those whose learning is disrupted.
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