Education notes: Department for Education pimps for private business / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014

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Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

‘A lobbyist is a pimp who wants to live out his life as a pimp. The money is good but the hours are terrible. Lobbyists will never admit that their organisation’s or company’s interest is not consonant with the best interests of the country.’ (Chuck Stone, King Strut, 1970)

A sizable chunk of Department for Education (DfE) money goes on ‘pimping’ by lobbyists, who come not from outside government to beg favours, but from inside government to offer favours. The attack on state education is being financed by state education and chief among the pimps are those well paid ‘brokers’ hired by the DfE to transfer the public sector into private ownership. Lobbyists for the privatising agenda, however, are finding it challenging to sell the idea of making corporate profits from schooling the working class. A recent leaked document from the DfE invites ‘the finest creative minds’ to join a series of small focus groups to generate ideas for deregulating the school system further. One proposal is for ‘self-managing’ schools with less oversight from the DfE, saving money, if legislative and process controls around the current system can be removed. We are well on the way to lobbyists promoting small, cheap schools, sponsored by local corner shops and run by unqualified adults, as the best defence against the heavy hand of state interference in the lives of our children, while at the same time helping to pay off the national debt.

Last year there was a £4bn boom in outsourcing public funds to four of Britain’s largest contractors – Serco, Capita, Atos and G4S. Added to this is £1.4bn that was handed over to the private sector by the DfE under Education Secretary Michael Gove. This year a massive £1.7bn of capital investment has been set aside for ‘free’ schools and academies, which are state-funded privately-run schools. At the same time nearly half of all councils will have a shortage of primary school places by 2015. Local councils have the responsibility for providing school places, but no power to plan, commission or build schools.

Do academies and ‘free’ schools work? Do they care?

More than 34 academies and ‘free’ schools have been sent warning letters with serious concerns about their performance over the last year. But then so have dozens of state sector schools which have been labelled by Gove’s inspectorate Ofsted as ‘unsatisfactory’ or merely ‘satisfactory’ – words that lose all meaning when there is a political agenda of privatisation. Gove’s babbling to parliament and the media is now famous for misleading and rubbishy remarks. He uses the word ‘average’ as an insult, not as a ‘median’ or ‘mean’, and insists that all pupils can have above average national test results and if they don’t it is because of bad teaching. No wonder Gove has been censured by the UK Statistics Watchdog. But Gove doesn’t care because he is on a mission to slash state expenditure on working class education and if that means clowning around with the truth he will do it.

There’s a hole in the departmental bucket…

The Department for Business, which appropriately enough in this brave new world has responsibility for higher education, finds itself with a hole in its budget of some £570m – caused by the rise in student loans after the government extended them to private colleges. It has been forced to suspend recruitment at 22 private colleges and chains. Now the department wants its money back and is considering a raft of measures, aimed at the poorest students, to do so. The National Scholarship Programme, aimed at ensuring access to higher education for students from the country’s very poorest families is to be abolished a year early – a saving of £75m. In addition, it is proposing to cut £350m from grants for students from low-income families, and slash science funding. It has also sold on £890m worth of student loans to a private debt company. Education is, after all, a business now.

Some police came with tasers

In an excellent show of solidarity, on 24 October University of London students demonstrated in support of the demand by outsourced cleaners, organised in the 3Cosas campaign, for working rights on a par with those of staff directly employed by the university. The group of demonstrators who gathered outside Senate House chanting their three demands – ‘Sick pay, holidays, pensions now!’ – were confronted by around 16 police officers, some armed with tasers who attempted, unsuccessfully, to kettle them in the car park. For over a year the cleaners, who are employed by Balfour Beatty on behalf of the university, have attempted to negotiate for recognition of their union, the Independent Workers of Great Britain, and for the same basic rights to sick pay, holidays and pensions. Having been ignored by both the university and Balfour Beatty, the cleaners and maintenance workers held a two-day strike on 27 and 28 November, closing university buildings in central London. It is in the interests of all students and staff to support this protest. As we go to press, 3Cosas has won its demands for sick pay and holiday pay and continues the fight for pensions. The University of London had no comment.

Some police came with money

A recent, secretly-filmed video shows a Cambridgeshire police officer attempting to recruit a Cambridge student for undercover police work. The request was for low grade information on meetings, numbers, names of participants, car registrations, identifying leaders and reporting on the feelings of political activists, all in return for expenses and, perhaps, £30. The police officer proposes surveillance of UK Uncut or Unite against Fascism, ‘that sort of thing, student union type stuff’ because ‘the things they discuss can have an impact on community issues’. Apart from the insultingly low cash offer, the surprising aspect is the police statement that they cannot infiltrate such meetings themselves: ‘We can’t do it. It is impossible. That’s why we want to work with people’. Clearly the revelations published in Undercover, The true story of Britain’s secret police (Evans and Lewis, 2013), which details the long-term infiltration, assumed identities and double lives of secret police in protest movements must have had an impact on police tactics. We know that the state is always there in some form or other, intimidating, demobilising and buying off those who organise in protest against injustice. We must never allow suspicion and fear of others to undermine our determination to work in solidarity with oppressed people. The University of Cambridge had no comment.     

Susan Davidson