Plunder of the public purse

Education Notes

In the UK today the privatisation of the state education system leads directly to the distribution of spoils to individuals and groups favoured by the government. The Academies and ‘free’ schools programmes are designed to siphon off public money and Education Secretary Michael Gove has championed a system of patronage. One of his former advisers, Rachel Wolf, has become the latest in a long run of individuals to personally benefit from the privatisation of the education system. Wolf runs the New Schools Network, a so-called charity to promote ‘free’ schools; in reality devoted to the break-up the state system. The New Schools Network received a £500,000 grant from the Department for Education (DfE) for its work. No other organisation was asked to bid for the work and the role was not publicly advertised.

The bigger picture

Rewarding loyalists with these highly-paid posts is not the final aim of this government. The serious agenda is to be found in Gove’s relationship with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Michael Gove defended Murdoch in October 2011 after the closure of the News of the World at the height of the phone hacking scandal. No surprise there, for as described in FRFI 224, both Gove and his wife Sarah Vince have had extravagantly well-paid jobs at The Times and the publisher Harper Collins, subsidiary of News Corporation.

The ties between Murdoch and Gove are far closer than this financial patronage suggests. Rupert Murdoch has declared a determination to move into the education market in the United States. In the summer of 2010 he hired New York lawyer Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City Education Department, at a cost of $2m a year plus a $1 million signing bonus, to launch a ‘revolutionary, and profitable, education division’ for News Corp. Murdoch's vision consisted of an open marketplace to digitise the world’s so far unexploited classrooms. He told investors: ‘We see a $500bn sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs.’ He envisaged some of News Corporation’s large library of media content being beamed to pupils’ terminals.

Murdoch then moved on to the possibilities of breaking into a lucrative market in the UK. He told the audience for his 2010 Margaret Thatcher lecture that the UK’s education system needed reform because ‘in the last decades ... most of the English-speaking world has spent more and more on education with worse and worse results’. It is on record that Gove has met Klein and Murdoch on many occasions since he became Education Secretary in May 2010. Gove accompanied former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks on a November 2010 trip to a site in east London, near News Inter-national’s Wapping HQ, where Murdoch planned to build an Academy school, no doubt as an opener for his project to buy into the UK education market. According to Guardian journalist David Leigh, Murdoch described himself in a speech as the saviour of British education, thanks to his company's ‘adoption of new academies here in London’. Leigh has catalogued Gove’s close relations with Murdoch (see The Guardian 27 February 2012).

Muddy waters

Murdoch’s education business operations in Britain have been partially stalled by the revelations of widespread phone hacking and corruption at News International leading to the arrests of journalists including Rebekah Brooks. The Wapping Academy plans have sunk without trace. Curiously Joel Klein, who was recruited by Rupert Murdoch in January 2011 as executive vice president at News Corp and chief executive of News Corp’s new education unit, is now overseeing the clean-up operation at News International. Gove is a big fan of Klein’s management style which included major clashes with teachers’ unions in New York and enthusiasm for Academy-style schools. Shortly before his recruitment to News Corp, Klein’s department awarded a $27 million contract to Wireless Generation, the Murdoch-owned student data tracking company. The award of the contract is questionable in relation to Klein’s career move, but so also is the wisdom of awarding a contract concerned with personal information to a company now notorious for illegally hacking personal information. On 6 July 2011 Murdoch stated that Klein would ‘provide important oversight and guidance’ in the phone hacking investigation.

Michael Gove and Mrs Blurt

The ‘independent’ News International investigation could not stop the stink of corruption from emerging. The muddy waters which are closing over the head of Murdoch have at least temporarily halted his plans to privatise sections of the UK education system. Nor has Michael Gove been spared. A recent Freedom of Information request has revealed that certain of Michael Gove’s special advisors at the DfE have an undisclosed private e-mail account called ‘Mrs Blurt’ used to discuss government business. Gove is refusing to release these e-mails on the grounds that they are private. A further number, perhaps 130, departmental e-mails between Gove’s aides and a number of journalists have been systematically deleted and the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating ‘allegations of a criminal nature’ at the DfE.

Klein is today leading the News International ‘management and standards committee’ where he is handing over journalists’ incriminating e-mails to the police. We demand similar and better exposure of the links between Michael Gove, Rupert Murdoch, journalists, the police and the public money that is being diverted from the public purse to fund the plot against state education in the UK.

The ‘direct power’ of Whitehall

The DfE has stormed into the London Borough of Haringey to prepare the way for handing over at least four local authority schools to Academy sponsors. The use of ‘direct power’ was introduced by the Labour government to remove a governing body and replace it with an Interim Executive Board (IEB) appointed from Whitehall. The governors of Downhills Primary School were sacked in March because they were actively campaigning, together with the community, teachers, parents and pupils, against an enforced transfer to Academy status. The new five-member IEB includes Daniel Moynihan, who is also Chief Executive of the Harris Federation, which runs 13 academies in south London and is sponsored by Conservative peer Lord Harris. How inevitable then that a ‘spokesman’ for the DfE has announced that ‘Harris are our preferred sponsor for Downhills’. What Whitehall ‘prefers’ is clearly more important than what the people prefer.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 226 April/May 2012


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