Education Notes: The Academy Games

At the end of November, the first-ever Academies Show took place in Birmingham. Just like a car or garden show, over 200 suppliers laid out their stalls, pitching for sales. The programme highlight was the ministerial keynote speech, ‘Unlocking the power of academies for a world-class education system’. Panel discussions were held throughout the day with a special session on ‘Identifying Radicalisation Early and Ensuring the Protection of Vulnerable Children Within Schools’. Sponsors included the Department for Education (DfE), the Crown Commercial Service, Microsoft, Sage, and PS Financials.

What exactly is on sale here is the nation’s education system. The Academies Show aims to find sponsors to take over schools. Local Education Authority (LEA) schools are on offer to education businesses, multi-national corporations or religious foundations. In this unusual marketing enterprise it is the British state that is putting up the capital yet demanding no returns on investment.

Academy schools are state-funded schools under the patronage of sponsors and accountable only to central government. When ‘free’ schools and ‘academies’ started under the Blair government in 2000, sponsors were expected to donate £2 million to buy into the right to impose their chosen ‘ethos’ on a school – Christian, traditional or whatever. By 2005 academies were being transferred freely to sponsors and today the government is desperately offering cash inducements to sponsors to take the nation’s schools out of LEA control, or to take over failing existing academies. The political agenda of cutting state welfare expenditure requires an attack on public sector provision as a whole and must create divisions and competition within it. And so the amount of state funding given to ‘free’ schools in 2013-14 was £7,761 per pupil compared with £4,767 for LEA schools.

Read more ...

Kids Company – the third sector and austerity

Camila Batmanghelidjh founded Kids Company in Camberwell in 1996

Less than a week after receiving a government grant of £3 million in July, Kids Company closed down on 5 August 2015. Its charismatic leader, Camila Batmanghelidjh, had worked in social care since 1991 when she established Place2Be, a charity for troubled children in primary schools. Place2Be now reaches 80,000 children and works in 235 schools across the UK. In 1996 she founded Kids Company, a charity for children suffering from poverty, abuse and trauma. Batmanghelidjh came across ‘hard to reach’ children in Camberwell in south London, living in conditions of severe neglect and domestic chaos. She saw that the response to early life deprivation is hostility to authority, lack of hope, and a frozen emotional state like a protective shell against further damage. She believes that damaged children can learn to trust adults only through patient interaction and therapeutic activity. Material aid such as food and shelter should be on offer at all times with an ‘open door’, street-level approach.

Kids Company grew to offer services for some 36,000 children, young people and families, many of whom were otherwise unsupported asylum seekers. Volunteers and paid staff ran alternative education centres and therapy houses, and worked with over 40 schools in London and Bristol and a performing arts programme in Liverpool. One-to- one mentoring was at the heart of the project.

Read more ...

‘All-out war’ on state education

Following the general election, Prime Minister Cameron and Education Secretary Morgan declared an ‘all-out war’ on ‘coasting schools’. All schools inspected by Ofsted will be taken out of local authority control and turned into academies and ‘free’ schools if they do not show improved results year on year.

The Ofsted inspectorate is a quango, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, funded by the state. However, since it was set up in 1992 Ofsted has been used not to support schools, nurseries and child-care provision but to attack local authorities. Ofsted publishes standardised judgments on the performance of educational institutions. Significantly Ofsted’s verdicts on the success or failure of schools closely match national test results, which in England occur at the ages of four, seven, 11 and 14. Standard Attainment Targets, or Sats, were first introduced not as tests but as a tool for tracking children’s learning. Today, Sats results, together with Ofsted inspection judgments, are combined into league tables which rate schools annually against each other. Schools are graded as ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ (this was ‘satisfactory’ but the term was abandoned when Ofsted realised what the word means) or ‘inadequate’. Schools judged ‘inadequate’ are put into special measures which can mean sacking the head and/or staff and/or governors, followed by loss of reputation, pupils, income, increased workload for teachers, and regular inspections.

Read more ...

Education Notes

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.

Read more ...

The GERM will win – unless we fight

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) is the name given to the neo-liberal target of opening up education provision to market forces, a process started in the 1980s and speeding up today.  Education Notes has tracked the impact of GERM on the British education system which has been characterised by outsourcing, deregulation and shrinking local education authorities. At long last the leading teachers’ union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has published a political commentary on GERM in Teacher magazine in which the union’s General Secretary Christine Blower condemns turning pupils into consumers of education and teachers into private sector workers. Standardised testing, performance-related pay and competition between schools are preparing the way for privatisation.  The NUT may have the best intentions of fairness to all and does emphasise, officially, if not in practice, concerns about child poverty. 

However the union fails to even begin to explain why governments globally are selling off their stake in education and transferring public funds to private business. There is an implicit dishonesty in attacking the ConDem government’s policies of diverting funds to ‘free’ schools and academies, while failing to acknowledge that the last Labour government set the pace on outsourcing education provision and huge chunks of the social services. The Financial Times (18 November 2014) records that from 2006 to 2010 Labour spent £45bn on privatised services and since 2010 the ConDems have spent £88bn. Labour opened the door and the other parties rushed in. The NUT’s political weakness leads inevitably to a weak fightback so that ‘pressurising politicians’ is the only tactic on offer in the struggle against the power of the corporate education lobby. Evidence unfolds daily of the incompetence, waste and corruption of marketising the education system which should be seized upon and attacked by any trade union worth the name.

Wonga style 

One fine example of the scandalous mess of monetarising education is the history of the Student Loans Company (SLC) which was originally set up as a non-profit making venture. In the late 1990s, the government sold two tranches of the mortgage-style loans to investors, firstly in 1998 to Greenwich NatWest raising £1bn, and secondly in 1999 to Deutsche Bank and the Nationwide Building Society, raising another billion. The SLC’s remaining mortgage-style loans, for which payments were mostly in arrears, were sold to a consortium Erudio Student Loans in 2011 for £160m. In 2014, the government indicated that it would start selling the SLC’s £12bn book of 1998-2012 loans to improve public finances.

In July 2014, the SLC was accused of using controversial tactics similar to those used by Wonga, the pay-day loans company, for sending out letters from what appeared to be an independent debt collection agency called Smith Lawson & Company. (Wonga has been ordered to pay £2.6m in compensation for sending customers letters from fictitious debt recovery firms).  The SLC announced it was suspending the use of the letters, which it said had used the ‘secondary brand’ to avoid paying fees to a conventional debt collection agency. 

Can’t pay – won’t pay

The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has reported that university students will have an average £40,000 debt at the end of a degree and unpaid debt is predicted to rise from £46bn in 2013 to £330bn by 2044. In 2012 student tuition fees were trebled to £9,000 and 73% of today’s graduates will not be paying back their loan in full. The HEC says that ‘a new model is needed’. Indeed. The only model worth demanding is that of the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts which is ‘no fees, no debts, and no cuts’. On 19 November over 10,000 students marched in London under this slogan and they propose further actions. The National Union of Students did not support the demonstration due to ‘an unacceptable level of risk’ to its members. The NUS headquarters were daubed with paint as the students showed what they thought of this sell-out.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 242 December 2014/January 2015

More Articles ...

  1. Education Notes: Gove may have gone but the market marches on
  2. Guilty verdict for Education Secretary Michael Gove
  3. From book to letter: the Trojan Horse of Michael Gove
  4. Muslim schools targeted by Islamophobia
  5. Education: Mr Gove exposes himself
  6. Education notes - Eton College on Benefits Street
  7. Education notes: Department for Education pimps for private business / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  8. Students protest against cuts and privatisation, and in solidarity with university workers – December 2013
  9. Outsourcing yields very tasty profits/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013
  10. Education notes: The neoliberal blame game/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  11. Student loans for sale – everything must go
  12. Privatisation of higher education
  13. Education notes: Education for sale/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  14. The rights of the disabled child – March 2013
  15. Education Note: The ‘bad man’ theory of history / FRFI 231 Feb/Mar 2013
  16. Education notes: Gove shrinks state education /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012
  17. No armed forces in our schools / FRFI 228 Aug/Sep 2012
  18. Academy schools: bribes and false promises / FRFI 227 June/July 2012
  19. Plunder of the public purse /FRFI 226 April/May 2012
  20. Education Notes - The Academies swindle /FRFI 225 Feb/Mar 2012
  21. Education notes: Mr Gove and his box of magic tricks/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012
  22. There is no such thing as a free lunch ... or a free school / FRFI 223 Oct/Nov 2011
  23. Education notes - How not to spend the money / FRFI 222 Aug/Sep 2011
  24. Bribery and corruption in the school system / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011
  25. Not ‘dream’ schools but nightmares /FRFI 220 April/May 2011