Education for sale

You cannot bend or bribe or twist
Thank God, the English journalist
But seeing what the man will do
Unbribed, there’s no occasion to
(Humbert Wolfe, The Uncelestial Body)


Not so Labour Party Members of Parliament. They have a minimum bribe price of £78,000 a year wages plus expenses. And to keep their jobs and privileges they supported the Prime Minister’s Education Bill, that ‘monumental barrel of bollocks’ as Ted Wragg described it, rather than break with Labour. Only 51 MPs voted against the Bill which will unleash a new wave of privatisation into the English school system and undermine further the welfare state.

The Bill, which is a very dense document of over 1,000 pages, will progress slowly through committee stages and the Tories threaten to withhold support at any time. The key issue is still the role of local education authorities and their ‘strategic commissioning roles with duties to ensure that every child reaches their educational potential’. Quite what this means will have to be seen.

The Bill permits local authorities to create new schools, but this will be subject to the Education Secretary’s veto. Encouragement to private individuals and consortia to buy new schools for £2 million with £25 million thrown in from the government is still on offer and the target to establish 200 Academy schools by next year remains.

‘Trust’ schools, however, are a new feature of the Bill. These are state-funded independent schools which will be controlled by outside organisations, such as businesses or charities, but which do not have to provide funding (England only). Whether only those with no head for sums will apply to run an Academy when they could get a ‘Trust’ school for free is something only time can tell.

You already heard it here
The Labour Party’s cash for peerages arrangements work especially well in the education sector. As reported in FRFI 189, a big contribution to the SSAT (Specialist Schools and Academies Trust) will get your name to the prime minister’s office and ‘for a donation of £10 million you could go to the House of Lords’.

Goodbye to Rod
Rod Aldridge is a busy man. His company Capita grew from a £112 million turnover in 1996 to almost £1.3 billion in 2004 because of its leading role in grabbing finances from the Labour government’s massive expansion of public sector outsourcing. Capita runs the literacy and numeracy strategy for the Department for Education and Skills, runs the Criminal Records Bureau, and collects the television licence fee. And despite inefficiency and financial scandal (last week the company was fined £300,000 by the City watchdog after an alleged £1.8 million fraud attempt by some of its own employees), Capita thrives. Over the next three years Capita will be running BBC human resources and providing Birmingham city council with all its IT under a £424 million contract.

It will be no surprise to learn that Rod Aldridge keenly supports the government’s policies of encouraging private sector involvement in the public services. He sponsors one of Blair’s ‘flagship’ Academies and is one of the secret Labour lenders of £1 million. Rod Aldridge has just resigned as chairman of his company. Capita now has over a third of all public sector outsourcing contracts and Rod does not want his company to suffer from the slightest suspicion that it has sought favours or brought advantage from those in government handing out the contracts.

Sir Michael regrets . . .
The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is the biggest-spending quango (quasi non-governmental organisation) in the country. This huge institution superintends provision for the 25% of 16-year-olds who leave school without any qualifications each year. It is what used to be called the Careers Office. Today it is a funding organisation that offers vocational qualifications, and ‘entry-to-employment’ courses. Not directly of course, but by outsourcing to firms and training-providers. Some of these set-ups have proved very dodgy in the past as this newspaper has recorded, like the fraudulent Individual Learning Accounts and the e-learning computer system.

Sir Michael Bichard, permanent secretary of the LSC recently confessed that his organisation has failed some of the country’s poorest teenagers and is actually ‘deepening social inequalities’.

It is so overstretched with projects and initiatives that the LSC is putting financial pressure on training firms which makes it less likely that they will take on those who have struggled at school. There is a 22-week cap on funding apprenticeships which is not long enough for those with serious literacy and numeracy problems to succeed and as a consequence drop-out rates are about 80% in many vocational areas. Sir Michael says that this is personally ‘very disappointing…because the simple fact is that the council is not treating seriously or equitably this most vulnerable group’.

The trouble is, Sir Michael, that when your so-called partners in training are actually firms receiving massive subsidies from the state, things are likely to go very badly wrong when the funding dries up.
Susan Davidson

FRFI 190 April / May 2006

 

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