EDUCATION NOTES: Carpet and maternity leave discounts

Lord Harris, the carpet and flooring magnate, is also the proud owner of six academy schools. The Harris Federation offers its academy teachers a 20% discount from his chain of shops, while at the same time reducing paid maternity leave for teachers by half. This ‘win some, lose some’ approach – good for the carpet business, bad for mothers and babies – is not restricted to the contracts of a few hundred teachers. The impact of the new academies – so-called private/state schools – now affects thousands of parents and pupils in particular areas of the country. By 2009 the London Borough of Southwark, for example, will have three Harris Federation Academy Schools but only one community school (run by the local education authority). Out of a total of 16 secondary schools in Southwark, eight will be academies and six are schools of religious denomination. Parents have little choice but to send their children to so-called faith schools or to one of the borough’s privately-sponsored academies.

Faith schools the only choice
The Church of England has the target of sponsoring 100 faith schools including plans for the first multi-faith Christian and Muslim academy in Oldham, Greater Manchester. Of the existing 84 academies, 24 are faith schools. The overall number of privately-sponsored private/state schools is a small percentage of the over 2,000 secondary schools in Eng land but in certain areas, like Southwark, they dominate the secondary school scene, in some areas imposing only religious-based schools on the local population. Norwich, which has the highest proportion of avowed atheists in England at 37%, is to have a very large new ‘Christian ethos’ academy to replace current schools. West Sussex also has low levels of Christian adherence – church attendance is at 3.9% among 15-to-19-year-olds compared to a national figure of 5.3%. Nonetheless, three community schools are due to be closed to make way for academies backed by Woodard Schools, another organisation with a ‘strong Christian ethos’.

Choices, lies and selection
The Labour government attacks the public sector, dismantles it for privatisation and preaches that the customers (parents and students) want choice. It’s not working. Either there is no choice of schools and colleges in a given area – or there is a scramble for ‘the best’ places. The unplanned market in schooling, in which the middle classes buy their way into privilege by tutoring their children to win, has smashed up the state sector. The chief civil servant, the Schools Adjudicator, told MPs that allowing families to decide what schools they apply for was ‘leading to social, religious and ethnic segregation’. British public education was never as good or as comprehensive as it was claimed to be, but now the Labour government has created a disaster.

Susan Davidson

FRFI 201 February 2008 / March 2008