Education notes: Gove shrinks state education

Behind the summer’s headlines of ConDem ‘omnishambles’, in reality the Coalition government has been ruthlessly pursuing its real agenda – to shrink state education. Controversies over exam results, sports funding, junk food in academies, and dead-end free schools are media buzzes that Education Secretary Michael Gove will tolerate in pursuit of his goal – to break up, downsize and privatise as much of the state education system as possible. The chaos and misery that Gove leaves in his wake is of no concern to a government that embodies the rampant need of the capitalist class to find new sources of profitable investment.

Junk food makes money

There were once 20,000 school breakfast clubs and records show that children’s attendance, concentration and motivation noticeably improved with the provision of healthy food before school. At least one in eight breakfast clubs have been cut in the last 12 months, despite increasing numbers of children arriving at school hungry. A recent two-year pilot scheme which extended free school meals to all primary pupils in Newham, east London, and Durham showed that providing free lunches is a more cost-effective way of boosting test results than some high-profile literacy and numeracy schemes.

After the Labour government ended Local Education Authority (LEA) school meal services, parents campaigned against the disgustingly low quality of meals provided by the food industry. The campaign against junk food took off with the celebrity stamp of Jamie Oliver resulting in legislation in 2005 on junk food, including bans on the sale of fizzy drinks and chocolate snacks in state schools, and discouraging kids from buying at local fast food outlets. However, academies and ‘free’ schools are exempt because their freedom from state ‘interference’ includes the right to make money from contracts with snack and drinks companies to install dispensing machines on school premises. The fast food franchise company Domino’s Pizza is largely owned by Moonpal Singh Grewal. He is also a generous benefactor to Gove’s Surrey Heath constituency party, which he chairs, making donations of nearly £50,000 between November 2005 and December 2011. Surrey Conservatives also accepted £6,805 from Surinder Kandola, the owner of 22 Domino’s Pizza franchises, in June 2006. There is no ‘conflict of interests’ here. Michael Gove simply supports his friends in big business and not the welfare of pupils.

Because you’re not worth it

In 1974, Reg Prentice, Education Secretary in the then Labour government, told teachers that in times of economic crisis there must be wage restraint and cutbacks in education spending, and that ‘yes, everybody must pay, even the children’. Today Gove’s task is how to best impose cuts with minimum social disruption. Over the last 38 years the further and higher education system has expanded dramatically with about 50% of young people attending university and many jobs now require degree level qualifications. For decades young people have been told that the way to improve ‘life chances’ is by succeeding in a regime of testing and targets from the age of five onwards, aimed at producing a highly skilled competitive workforce prepared for the ‘global challenge of the world market’ (Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown). This is the climate in which Gove has to reverse expectations and implement cuts. The sudden change in grade boundaries for English GCSE grade C this summer was one of the steps used to deflate the hopes of students. The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation pressurised the exam board Edexcel to change its threshold for awarding a C grade from 55 marks in January to 65 marks in June. A C-grade in English and maths is the minimum gateway to further education. Without it students cannot advance to education beyond the age of 16 years.

Gove had peddled the myth of ‘grade inflation’ to cover the crackdown on financing further education but he has made enemies including those professionals and institutions that rely on new cohorts joining ‘A’ level and other courses. Gove can manage this disapproval. He has announced that from 2015 GCSEs will be replaced by a more stringent and academic exam, similar to ‘O’ levels, which will exclude layers of young people from entering any public examinations at all. That will combine a massive cutback in educational expenditure and end the hopes of generations for a better-paid future at a stroke.

Sports for some

Under the School Sports Partnership (SSP), £162m a year was given to 450 companies to work with schools to develop physical education. Gove is ending this funding, dismissing it as being misspent on activities ‘like Indian dancing’ and not on competitive team sports. Andy Burnham, Labour Shadow Education Secretary agreed with a 30% cut in SSP ‘at this time of national crisis’, but argued that it would ‘damage the British Olympic legacy’. Gove has dismissed criticism with the words, ‘my cabinet colleague [then Culture Secretary] Jeremy Hunt has got a marvellous proposal for a school Olympics, meaning that in every community every year we will have competitive sport’.

‘Free’ schools in freefall

Fifty-five new ‘free’ schools are opening across England this year to add to last year’s 24. A further 114 have been approved for 2013. They are not ‘free’ but paid for by the state directly from central government. Guaranteed state funding, the opportunity to occupy public buildings, design a personalised curriculum, hire bright young people who do not have to be qualified teachers, and generate a client base has been promoted as a dizzying entrepreneurial opportunity. Time has shown, however, that there are limits to how far Gove & Co can dole out money to chosen beneficiaries, and how little most parents trust these new set-ups with their go-it-alone fantasies and cheap imitations of Eton. The One in a Million Free School in Bradford had its funding withdrawn on the grounds it had too few pupils, just eight days before it was due to open having cost some £213,000. The Beccles Free School in Suffolk which has received £2m in funding and has space for 162 pupils is opening with fewer than 70 in an area that has 10,000 spare secondary school places.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012


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