Last week’s grim economic forecasts are followed at the weekend with an IPSOS MORI poll for the Observer which finds that, for the first time since the survey began in 1983, more British people think that their children will have a lower quality of life than they, their parents, had. This takes me back to an assembly that John Scullion (in his role as head of Economics) and I gave at Bedales in autumn 2008. To demonstrate the length of the unprecedented period of economic growth that had just come to an end, I asked those students whose birth had coincided with the start of this economic cycle to stand up – slightly embarrassed at being used as a visual aid for an economic boom, they did so – more importantly, they were seventeen years old. Looking gloomily to the future, we are still adjusting to the idea that British living standards may be no higher in 2016 than they were in 2001. How might this affect schools like ours? Firstly, we have no post-war comparable period which allows us to foresee how such a period of prolonged economic downturn affects the fee-paying parent, especially given that the additional, unprecedented burden of university fees will be an additional pressure. Secondly, the more difficult it is to gain access to the small pool of jobs that are rewarding, both in terms of job satisfaction and money, the more important a child’s education becomes – and the more important it is to have an education that equips you to keep learning. The premium on having the best education will continue to rise. Also, I suspect the absence of escalating material expectations might help us – parents and educators – engage our children more fully in the things that should matter most in anyone’s upbringing – friendship, laughter, a sense of belonging and purpose and the thrill of being inspired.
By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools