Education Notes

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Pre-election love-in

As the general election looms, it’s time for Party leaders to declare their undying love for schooling. David Cameron says that one of his ‘favourite things to do as Prime Minister’ is to visit inner-city schools; Ed Miliband promises that ‘as Prime Minister, I will be really deeply engaged in education. I’m a parent, I care a lot about it’, while Nick Clegg says that giving money to schools for poor pupils is his ‘greatest achievement’ as Deputy Prime Minister. He means the ‘pupil premium’ which grants a few extra pounds for ‘needy’ children. His own eldest son, like Tony Blair’s, attends the London Oratory School (92% ‘A’ exam results) and will not be needing any poverty premium. All the party leaders ensure they are snapped sitting on little chairs in classrooms. This is operation love-in to woo the votes of parents who have been told that without an ‘excellent’ education their children will have no future and, worse still, will make no contribution to the global competitiveness of Britain’s economic future.

The mess we’re in

It was a Labour government that led the way in dismantling the state education system, with its attacks on local education authorities and ‘bog-standard’ comprehensive schools, and the introduction of university fees and academies. This sell-out was accompanied by the intensification of bureaucracy in teaching, competition between schools, colleges and universities and target-driven funding, all described as ‘pushing up standards’. The political parties are united under the empty slogan that ‘Education is what makes a nation strong’. Each Education Secretary in turn hammers home the message that the country’s economic future depends on a highly-skilled, employable workforce and it is the task of schools to deliver this.

Beneath this pile of ideology lies another agenda. This is to turn education into a profit-making business, feeding the fat cats of the private sector with guaranteed capital and markets. Parents and pupils have been delivered into the care of hedge funds, religious foundations, the public relations departments of private entrepreneurs, corporate charities and their trustees under the heading of academy schools, ‘free’ schools and faith schools. The result is chaos in the education system.

Scandal time

The scramble for a slice of the education system is out of control and every day there are revelations about corruption. Academies have used their inflated Department of Education budgets to pay huge salaries to senior management teams. Sir Greg Martin Head of the Durand Academy Trust in south London earns more than £400,000 a year and has ‘complex arrangements’ with the finances of his charities and a dating agency run from the academy site. These are ‘questionable practices’, according to the House of Commons education committee and show ‘the ease with which trustees can benefit from their relationships with academy trusts’. The Aurora Academies Trust, which runs four primary schools in East Sussex, for example, pays Mosaica Education, its US parent company, about £100,000 a year to use a patented global curriculum.

School places needed

An estimated additional 450,000 new school places will be required in the next five years; 133,000 in London alone in the next two years. Local education authorities are not allowed to establish new schools unless and until sponsorship has been put out to tender in the private and charitable sector. Where there is no space for new buildings, academies, ‘free’ and faith schools are to be asked to lease out some of the land given to them by the state. The Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association (Fasna) which represents about 1,000 ‘self-governing’ schools, is alarmed and seeking legal advice to protect their privileges. It is demanding to know if the political parties ‘will continue to support autonomy as a means of raising standards’ in the country’s schools.

What will the post-election government do?

Very little, in short. Labour might introduce an interim or third-tier administrative authority somewhere between Westminster and local authorities to monitor academy school spending. The LibDems will rest on their pupil premium laurels and the Tories have announced that they will open 500 more ‘free’ schools paid for by the public in places where parents and sponsors are eager to try their hand at well-funded schooling. The chaos will increase with overcrowding in some areas and school closures due to falling pupil rolls in others where new ‘free’ school have been opened.

Moral imperatives at the United Nations

What is happening in Britain is occurring throughout the world. A recent United Nations report (bit.ly/UNReportSchools) notes that increasing privatisation is damaging educational provision for all the children of the world in both developed and underdeveloped countries. It says that governments are bypassing their ‘moral imperative’ to provide free state education and instead are outsourcing public schooling to profit-making companies. The UN is facing up to the fact that its Millennium Development Goal to achieve universal primary education by this year has failed. 58 million children worldwide do not attend primary school and at the current rate it will take until 2072 to eradicate youth illiteracy. There is an annual funding gap of $26 billion a year and the UN is finally accepting that he private sector cannot and will not function as a replacement for the responsibilities of governments. The Fortune Global 500 companies spend only $2.6 billion a year, 13% of their total annual corporate responsibility (CSR) budget of $19.9 billion – on education projects. In fact the UN concludes that educational provision around the world from primary to university has become increasingly targeted by private business as an investment opportunity, leads only to greater division and impoverishment of populations as a whole. This is true for the world and true for Britain.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015

 

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