Tories back down on academies

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The Tories got it wrong

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has had to back down over plans, announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s budget, to force all schools to become academies (see FRFI 250). The proposal was foolishly dogmatic and was opposed by many, including Conservatives, who relish their role in local councils and on school governing boards and felt insulted by the idea that another institution could do the job better. Morgan got this wrong. It is as if she forgot that recent governments have been able to impose changes in the state education system only by playing off one section against another with special favours and extra grants. This was a diktat too far and there was a revolt against what was seen as the ‘nationalisation’ of the country’s schools and direct rule from Whitehall. Morgan will continue to use the inspectorate Ofsted as a useful intermediary, as it retains powers to take schools away from local education authorities if they are deemed to be ‘below the floor’.

SATS attack

Morgan has also overseen a year of botched and chaotic new primary school standard attainment target tests (SATS). The DfE announced that it is on a ‘rigour revolution’ and rushed to impose new and harsh testing regimes. Baseline assessment tests for 4 and 5-year-olds in reception class were sent out to schools, clarifications were published, a muddle followed and then the tests were cancelled in early April. Key Stage 1 spelling, punctuation and grammar (spag) tests for 6 and 7-year-olds were leaked online, and cancelled in late April. Key Stage 2 spag tests for 11-year-olds were published online the evening before they was due to be taken in May. They were exceedingly narrow and stringent examinations for which knowledge of Latin would have been an advantage. Subordinating conjunction, anyone? Modal verbs? The DfE went ahead anyway encouraged by Pearson, the government’s tests contractor. This is the unsavoury multinational publishing company that produces educational material for the world and whose various companies in the tax haven of Luxembourg are run from a room above a sports shop near the main railway station.

Dodgy accounts

Dubious finances are everywhere, including the annual accounts of the DfE which got a very critical assessment from the National Audit Office (NAO) on 25 April. An adverse opinion on ‘the truth and fairness’ of a group financial statement is the most serious view an auditor can give on a set of accounts and it is the second time the NAO has given this warning to the DfE – the first being in January 2015.The level of ‘uncertainty and error’ that NAO found in the DfE accounts is the result of handing public funds over to the private sector and charitable trusts to be passed to private education companies, charities, faith institutions and the pockets of sponsors and governing boards, and providing lucrative contracts to family and business associates. The cash flows that set up academies, ‘free’ schools, faith schools, vocational schools and specialist schools are hidden from public scrutiny.

Minister for Women and Equalities

Education Secretary Morgan is at the same time Minister for Women and Equalities. She heads up a shameful performance by the British government on both counts. The UK consistently falls behind other developed countries in international maths and language scores, ranking about 25th. Children in the UK are ranked 30th out of 39 countries in Europe and North America for well-being and ninth out of a sample of 11 countries around the world in various United Nations surveys. Britain also ranks high in the gender pay gap at work and in the overall index of gender inequality achieves less than Rwanda or Nicaragua.

So a bad record all round for Nicky Morgan. While we do not lay all the blame on one individual but rather on the systematic attack and under-resourcing of the state education system, we nevertheless think that she should resign and go away.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 251 June/July 2016

 

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