- Created: Wednesday, 06 August 2014 14:03
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 240 August/September 2014
In a deliberate attempt to protect the government from charges of ministerial incompetence, Prime Minister Cameron removed Michael Gove from his job as Education Secretary just days before the publication of two reports into schools. One investigation, headed by Peter Clark, former head of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism unit,* concludes that Muslim extremists set out to radicalise the schools of Park View education trust. Teachers at the schools are now being threatened with misconduct inquiries for taking part in their own social media group which included ‘a constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment’. The other report, commissioned by Birmingham Council and headed by former headteacher Ian Kershaw, found ‘unacceptable practices but no evidence of a conspiracy to promote violence or an anti-British agenda’. Both reports however have accused the Department for Education (DfE) of ‘benign neglect’ and ‘failure to identify potential risks associated with conversion to academy status’.
What are the risks?
The risks of dismantling state education are fragmentation, corruption and secrecy. It is almost impossible to find out who is receiving government funding and who is managing a growing number of schools in England. With 60% of secondary and nearly 40% of primary schools now academy schools of some description, the system is chaotic. The Cabot Learning Federation for example, which is now in charge of the education of 6,000 children aged 3 to 19 in twelve academies, is itself sponsored by Rolls-Royce plc and the University of the West of England. An endless web of private sponsorship and public funding threatens the future stability of the education system as a whole. The only certainty is that the Secretary of State for Education alone is directly responsible and accountable for academies and free schools.
The role of Ofsted
The inspectorate Ofsted is supposed to be impartial and independent of government, but it is clear that Gove imposed his political will on Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw and the organisation as a whole. He sacked Sally Morgan, the Blairite appointee who questioned academic progress in many academy schools on the grounds that pupils sit less challenging exams than those in local education authority schools. Ofsted found Park View Academy to be ‘outstanding’ in 2012 and the DfE encouraged the Park View trust to take over and run nearby local authority schools. However, following publicity about ‘Muslim infiltration’ in this and other schools. Gove summoned Ofsted to carry out new inspections and Ofsted duly found six Birmingham schools, of which five are academies, to be ‘inadequate’ and not offering a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’.
The role of the local education authority
As Education Secretary, Gove diverted more than £4 billion from the local education budget to pay for his academies programme which has needed cash to bribe and bully schools to convert from local control. As a result the number of staff in Birmingham City Council’s school effectiveness division, which was set up to provide specialist teachers, speech therapists etc, has been cut from 300 to 13 because of spending cuts. Local education authorities have few resources to spend on schools that have been removed from their responsibility. Birmingham City Council says that it was reluctant to make criticisms of Park View trust schools that could appear to be ‘Islamaphobic’. No doubt they also feared the anger of Michael Gove should they criticise the academisation of their schools.
The open invitation to all and any to sponsor academies and ‘free’ schools has seen a variety of interest groups rush to take up the offer to create a school brand, control curriculum, staff wages and appointments, all without any cost to themselves. The Church of England has extended its grip on faith schools and schools of a religious character ‘so firmly that in many localities in England there are no other secondary schools’. Where there is a majority Muslim population self-appointed leaders have similarly risen to the challenge and created schools with a ‘Muslim ethos’. This is evidently what has happened in areas of Birmingham and was a foreseeable consequence of putting schools into the market place.
Schools, lies and sponsorship
The Financial Times reports that the draft Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election sends ‘a strong message on school autonomy’. The Birmingham schools situation has shown that school freedom is an illusion. Schools must conform to an acceptably traditional imitation of middle-class Britishness or the full power of central control will be imposed by the Secretary for Education and funding will be cut off. Of course, some older institutions like the Catholic and Jewish schools will be untouched – their battles were won long ago and they receive government funding without questions about indoctrination and religious fundamentalism. Gove has been viewed as a radical conviction politician. He has now been exposed as stupid because he completely failed to understand the consequences of his project to dismember the state education system.
* In his former job at the Met, Clark gave evidence to the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights in October 2005, claiming that 90 days’ detention for questioning in ‘terrorism’ cases, proposed by the Labour government in a new Terrorism Bill, was necessary for state security. Indeed, he went further and claimed that the outcome of the so-called ‘ricin trial’ would have been very different if the police had had powers to detain one of the suspects, Mohamed Meguerba, for longer than the maximum of 14 days. In fact no ricin was ever found – a fact kept secret from the public for over two years – but the press screamed headlines such as ‘Poison gang on the loose’ and ‘Factory of death’. Meguerba was not held for the full 14-day maximum; he was released after two days in police custody.