To create the education system we need our politics must move to a long-term frame of policy. Photo: Getty
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Why we need whole-person education

Long-term thinking in education policy is vital to the way we reform our political economy.

The idea of "predistribution" is instantly associated with wonkishness gone too far. It's an ugly and overly politicised name for what is a pretty sensible and progressive set of ideas that the left should be utilising. Along with early intervention and social mobility it represents a commitment to long-term politics made real in policies that empower people from an early age to take control of their lives and tackle the excesses of inequality before they even occur. After the departure of Michael Gove from the Department for Education, now is the perfect time to talk about how education can be reclaimed as a political and social force that can achieve just that again.

The father of predistribiution, Jacob Hacker, describes it as being about a "more equal distribution of economic power and rewards even before government collects taxes or pays out benefits". In terms of action that can be taken by the government before taxes and benefits, aka in the early years of life, education is a huge part of government's responsibilities and its policy opportunities.

Patrick Diamond, in an essay for the Policy Network, analyses the relationship that predistribution has with education, arguing that for a realistic enacting of predistribution ideals to occur there must be a change in education policy (investment in human and social capital alongside redistribution).

Under New Labour the UK’s education system enjoyed a large increase in spending, but it was not enough to tackle the inequalities created by a globalised economy and the changes of the twenty first century. The state of inequality in our school systems at the moment is testament to this fact. IPPR's Condition of Britain report said that "social class inequalities in education remain high" and reports published by Demos earlier this year highlight the fact that income inequality, particularly in an age of food banks, is starkly reflected in the educational attainment at school of children from different social backgrounds. The impact of inequality on education helps create what is known as the "Great Gatsby Curve", which denotes that a child's life chances are determined by their parents "material circumstances". With inequality feeding into education and education feeding into inequality, what progressive policies must do is break this cycle and rethink the way we do education as a country.

In their interim report of their education inquiry, Compass have presented a new ethos and political approach to education in the UK. Touching base with the profound effects of inequality in education the report's author, Professor Ken Spours, says that "education, and its relationship with the economy, is betraying a whole generation of the young". Hoping to reverse this trend the report talks about creating an education system that engages people, is contemporary, relevant and dynamic. It is best described in the terms that the report uses itself: working towards "the birth of a national education system from cradle to grave".

Education shouldn’t begin or end at the gates of schools, colleges or universities. Education is a society-wide effort, with society-wide benefits. To create the education system we need our politics must move to a long-term frame of policy. Gordon Brown, for all the flaws that everyone remembers, at least understood that this had to be done; with commitments to early intervention in tackling child poverty and increasing the education leaving age to 18, he understood the need for long-termism in policy. If we are to change our education system to the one we need, we will need a lot more of this. 

Dan Holden is deputy editor of Shifting Grounds

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad