Education notes: Abolition of the welfare state moves closer

The most significant fact about the Education White Paper to be voted on in March is that it will abolish the right to education for all. Local authorities will lose the responsibility to ensure a school place for all the children in the area; it will be the schools that have the power to accept or reject pupils. If the proposals become law there will be no one to whom parents can appeal if no school offers their child a place.

One of the cornerstones of the post-war construction of the welfare state, the most acclaimed achievement of the British Labour movement, is the 1944 Education Act. This enshrined the right of all children to free secondary education. Local authorities were also made responsible for finding out how many children in their area had special educational needs and providing education for, in the language of the time, ‘the blind, partially sighted, deaf, partially hearing, delicate, educationally subnormal, epileptic, maladjusted, physically handicapped and those with speech defects’. All children were given the statutory right to schooling by their local authority. It is this right that is under threat if the new Education White Paper is passed.

Labour rebels are hypocrites
There has been much talk of panic in the ranks of Labour MPs about these proposals. Prescott sniffles about failing to get into grammar school as a youngster and Lord Kinnock condemns the proposals as ‘at best a distraction and at worst dangerous’. Yet both these Labour stalwarts consistently supported the increasing pace of privatisation of goods and services in the state sector that has characterised this Labour government since it came to power in 1997.

Previously mesmerised by talk of entrepreneurial skills and corporate marketing, the Labour rebels are perhaps now realising that demand and supply is no way to organise social provision. For though demand is high for good local schools and hospitals, supply is dependent on many factors, including the profitability of the private sector. Poor sick people may go away and die, like the 45 million US citizens who lack medical insurance, but poor youngsters without schools will be a new and destabilising threat.

There is already panic about the number of school truants which continues to rise despite the government’s failed £1 billion anti-truancy campaign, (see FRFI 186). To these numbers will be added thousands of ‘excludees’. Individual schools currently have the power to exclude ‘undesirable’ pupils, those who fail to lift the school up the league tables of exam results. But when each school controls its own admissions, then local authorities will also lose the right and the duty to ensure that excluded pupils are accepted into another school.

Honda, Vodafone and the Church of England
Meanwhile the big players are dividing the spoils of Labour’s privatisation agenda. Vodafone UK Foundation, one of Banbury’s biggest employers, and Honda Motor Europe, which has a major plant in Swindon, are preparing to purchase academies in their localities. For just £2 million cash per school the government will transfer responsibility to a new governing body and throw in £25 million. The United Learning Trust, chaired by Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury will oversee and run the schools together with the sponsors so that, in effect, big business is bank-rolling religious schools.

Around 80 academies are open or in development with another 130 under consideration, but Sir Cyril Taylor of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) has admitted that it is becoming difficult to attract sponsors in areas outside of London. Recently Des Smith, a member of SSAT had to resign after telling a journalist from the Sunday Times posing as a potential sponsor that ‘the prime minister’s office would recommend someone like [the donor] for an OBE, a CBE or, for a donation of £10 million, you could go to the House of Lords’.

The real scandal
The scandal about people on the sex offenders’ register being allowed employment in schools has dominated the headlines. It is a debate where everyone lands on the same side, ‘the safety of our children’. One scandal hides another child protection scandal. The bigger scandal, the greater offence, is in these White Paper proposals to dismantle the right to education.
Susan Davidson

FRFI 189 February / March 2006


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