Education Notes: reasons to be cheerful

As the recession deepens and cuts are made in state education, we can find reasons to be cheerful. Resistance to further academy schools at the ex­pense of local authority schools is growing, Ofsted the inspectorate are exposed as fools and privatisation plans are in a total mess.

The anti-academy alliance
Tony Blair’s pet idea of giving rich individuals and institutions ownership and control over state schools is in trouble. The list of wealthy sponsors with a taste for patronage who turn out to have dodgy business practices is growing. Carphone Warehouse mogul David Ross, who failed to declare that he had backed a personal loan with £120m-worth of shares, is the ‘first and founding sponsor’ of Havelock Academy in Grimsby. That means he appoints the majority of the governors and owns the land and buildings. Ross has resigned from the Olympic Games organising committee, but it is unclear whether he is still regarded as a suitable owner of an academy school. In March, Lord Bhatia, founder of Edutrust, an education business with the subsidiary Edutrust Academies Charitable Trust, had to resign. It was found that £60,000 ‘excess’ rent was paid to the Ethnic Minority Foundation of which Bhatia is co-founder. But irrespective of entrepreneurs who are a little too eager to put their hand in the till, the whole notion of the supremacy of the private sector over the public is shown to be a sham. Revelations about the incompetence and sheer greed for profits that has driven the banking sector into bankruptcy have knocked the academies agenda on the head. Council after council, often pushed on by parents’ and teachers’ protests, have abandoned plans to demolish local schools and open academies. Dudley, Sheffield and Ellesmere Port councils are among the growing list of local education authorities to axe academy proposals.

Yes but, no but – Ofsted
Caistor primary school in Lincolnshire experienced an extreme example of attending the education inspectors’ ball. In March 2006 an Ofsted inspection report concluded that ‘The leadership of the head teacher is outstanding’ and the school was graded 1 – ‘outstanding’. With the same head and basically the same team, the school was graded 4 – ‘unsatisfactory’ – in December 2008 and put into ‘special measure’ with the words, ‘the school does not have an accurate view of its strengths and weaknesses’. However, in January 2009, Ofsted awarded the school grade 1 and the comment, ‘The head teacher is outstanding in inspiring the school’. The long-suffering head says, ‘I feel I haven’t got the heart any more and it has left me with a lack of confidence about the system’. Teachers, parents and pupils all suffer from the consequences of such heavy-handed Ofsted inspections, the results of which seriously affect the funding received by schools. But finally the bullies from Ofsted are being dislodged from their heights and the day will come when the results of their data-crunching inspections are used for nothing more than toilet paper.

Brown’s PFI gets the blues
Prime Minister Brown’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was designed to make it look as if the government was spending less than it was by paying private firms to build hospitals, schools, the London Underground, and so on. The private sector would find the money and the state would repay it over a period of years. The vir-
tue of this arrangement for the Labour government was two-fold. It would appease middle-class tax-payers who, although anxious for improved hospitals and schools, are against paying higher taxes.

It would also deliver well-paid projects, with guaranteed profits, into the hands of Labour’s friends in the multinationals and corporations of the City of London. The plan did not include the calculation that businesses would go bust – which is what has happened. As a result the government now intends to give funds to the private sector so that it can finance public sector activities, and be paid back at a profit over time. Currently the Building Schools for the Future PFI programme is two years behind schedule, with just 42 schools rebuilt instead of the 200 expected by now. In October banks stopped providing funds for schools and so the government has sought emergency funds from the European Investment Bank. Despite these problems, executives at Partnerships for Schools (PfS), the government agency that oversees the programme, received 11%-18% bonuses for meeting targets last year.

Susan Davidson

FRFI 208 April / May 2009


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