- Created: Thursday, 16 June 2011 13:57
Head teachers are reporting that cuts in school budgets will lead to the immediate loss of 17,000 jobs in schools. However, Education Secretary Gove has laid out a pathway by which schools might be able to maintain or enlarge their budgets – convert to Academy status. Schools can get a windfall of more than £600,000 upon becoming Academies, like Balcarras School in Cheltenham. The bribe money is calculated by a complicated funding formula known as the ‘local authority central spend equivalent grant’ (Lacseg). This calculates the cash transfer away from the local education authority (LEA) and directs money straight into individual schools to enable them to buy-in additional services, for example, behaviour support, school improvement and central administrative staff, from private sector businesses.
Cashing in on Academies
Academy schools operate independently of local education authorities with the stated aim of controlling their own curriculum and staff wages and conditions all of which are passed off as ‘ethos’. The Lacseg money gift to schools is unmonitored and unaccountable. The Head of Balcarras School in Cheltenham, for example, has estimated that of the £600,000 received (and lost to the LEA) only £30,000 will be spent on replacing previously centrally provided services. But then Balcarras School, a comprehensive rated as ‘outstanding’ by the inspectorate Ofsted, has little need of learning support services. This cash nexus is inspiring many similarly ‘outstanding’ schools to transfer to Academy status. Kendrick Girls Grammar School in Reading has told parents it expects £669,000 payment for Lacseg but assures them that the school already has ‘all the freedoms we want’.
Unsurprisingly there is now a stampede to transfer to Academy status with nearly 1,000 schools waiting to apply, including primary, grammar and faith schools. In the queue are Special Educational Needs Schools with the aim of getting ‘a good deal’ for their pupils and a very large donation.
This cash bribe to split away from LEAs and come under the direct control of the Department for Education will not last long. In January ministers reduced the general spending of local authorities by £148 million in 2011-12 and a further £265 million for the following year to pay for the academies transfer policy. Clearly the rate at which this pot of money is disappearing means that the cupboard will be bare very soon and indeed the government has warned of ‘significant budget reductions’ and a new Academy funding system by 2013.
Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation and other horrors
Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged the establishment and extension of faith schools. Now, as millionaire and philanthropist, he continues to support global religiosity with his well-resourced Faith Foundation. At present in Britain one third of all state-funded schools are ‘schools with a religious character’, the legal term for faith schools. Today, 18% of secondary and 37% of primary schools are faith schools. This number is set to increase rapidly with the offer of government cash gifts and inducements, including dropping the need to employ qualified teachers, to any group of people who wish to set up a ‘free’ school.
A variety of Christian groups plan to establish schools and control their own curriculum. There is alarm from the scientific community, including the prestigious Association for Science Education, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Biology about the very real possibility that the teaching of science will be marginalised or dropped and will be replaced by a variety of creationist mythologies. Catholic and Church of England Schools are preparing to extend their power base by offering services to fill the void produced by cuts to LEAs. In the words of Bishop Pritchard of Oxford, ‘The local education authority is going to wither on the vine’. We need to embrace, ‘schools that are traditionally outside the church family. It’s all to play for’.
Playing the money game
The more the government talks about ‘driving up standards’ in education, the more there is a scramble for cash. School headed notepaper is for sale to companies hoping to sell private tuition services. More than 25,000 schools are in receipt of payments for sending out company advertising material for Student Support Centre DVD lessons for Key stage 1-4. While schools do not endorse the material, parents are begged to send replies to the school ‘as a source of fundraising’.
Chasing the funds has proved ‘embarrassing’ this year for Manchester Health Academy, which is sponsored by the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust. No pupils were entered for GCSE Biology this year. Pupils covered a more ‘digestible curriculum’, said the Head.
The market drives up prices
Our capitalist masters labour under the illusion that the privatisation of services and the marketisation of the education system are more efficient than state provision and are not in contradiction to the needs of learning. Or perhaps they don’t and merely care about transferring cash to their friends in big business for short term benefit and to hell with the rest of it.
On university tuition fees, for example, the £9,000 annual cost was initially described as the maximum charge for the ‘best’ colleges. Now, however, all Further-to-Higher Education colleges (those sending students on to university) are under pressure from a price-fixing ring to charge the full £9,000 per annum for the degree-level qualifications that they offer. Hoping to set fees at £7,000 a year, the Principal of Blackburn College has been told by his partner at the University of Central Lancashire to raise fees to the maximum level or cut ties with the university.
Overall the plan is that when the next round of budget cuts carves up education, the fightback will be disarmed and divided. Thankfully nearly 80% of teachers consider Michael Gove’s performance at the Ministry of Education to be ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011