Edinburgh school closures – the consequences of PFI

Following inspections in Gracemount and Craigmount High Schools in Edinburgh this month, 17 schools in the city were closed indefinitely following the Easter holiday. Five high schools, 10 primary schools, and two additional support schools, were found to be structurally unsound, with ‘severe defects’, leaving over 7,000 pupils unable to return to school in the run-up to exam times.

In addition many poor families in Edinburgh, who often rely on free meals to feed their children, have been severely affected. At one of the schools, Broomhouse Primary in the southwest of the city, over half of pupils qualify for free school meals. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of families who are forced to use food banks, as they rely on benefits or poverty wages for income.

 

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Student accommodation ‘the top-performing property investment field in the UK’

‘The UK student accommodation market is a rapidly expanding and increasingly lucrative field of investment. Growing faster than any other asset class since 2011, the number of UK students is predicted to grow at a rate of 15-20% over the next five years, increasing demand and making student accommodation the top-performing property investment field in the UK.’ (Select Portfolio investment newsletter, November 2015)

Investment in student housing reached a five-year high last year. According to the estate agent Savills, £5.8bn was pumped into the market in 2015. Newcastle is no exception to this growing trend, as investors rub their hands over the easy profits to be made from student accommodation. Government figures obtained by the local newspaper reveal that Newcastle has one of the highest proportions of student homes in England: ‘figures from The Department for Communities and Local Government show that the city had 7,578 homes exempt from council tax due to occupation by students. This represents 6% of the housing stock; one in 17 homes.’ (The Chronicle 19 Jan 2016)

Current schemes in Newcastle have created 11,000 student rooms since 2008. In contrast, in 2009 the council announced plans to build a mere 1,650 new council homes over a ten-year period and is currently missing this target by 38.3%. Addressing the lack of decent social housing is not an attractive investment prospect compared to the lucrative student accommodation market. The needs of communities are being overlooked whilst huge investment projects are swamping the city centre. Meanwhile, Newcastle Labour council has just unanimously voted through another £32m worth of cuts to services, bringing the total to £222m over the last five years.

 

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Education notes - FRFI 249 Feb/Mar 2016

Poverty haunts the classroom

Teachers are speaking up about the impact of benefit cuts on the health of their pupils. Anxiety and hunger do not make good companions to learning. Zero hours working contracts for parents make home life and meal times hard to organise. But it is the disruptive effect of the government’s bedroom tax that has been picked out as the most damaging in a new report by Professor Ruth Lupton from the University of Manchester. She says ‘the pressure put on families by this cut in benefits contributes significant hardship among low-income families.’ People are faced with the choice of paying the difference or losing their housing. Austerity means lost spaces at home and in the community with the closure of libraries, swimming pools and playgrounds. Property developers crowd in on our streets and pavements while overcrowding grows at home. There can be few more powerful indicators that the children of the working class are feared and hated than the new government policy to restrict child support to encourage the two-child family.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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‘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.

 

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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.

 

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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. 

 

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Education Notes: Gove may have gone but the market marches on

New Education Minister Morgan is qualified to oversee privatisation as a corporate lawyer

The replacement of sacked Education Minister Michael Gove with Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary and Minister for women and equalities means more of the same – a constant stream of educational ‘reforms’. The process of transferring state education to the private sector is the real agenda being carried out behind a smokescreen of teaching and learning initiatives. The banking and private equity sectors have been waiting on the sidelines for the opportunity to take over state provision and buy up the education sector. Morgan is well qualified to oversee this buy-out being a corporate lawyer.

 

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Guilty verdict for Education Secretary Michael Gove

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’.

 

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From book to letter: the Trojan Horse of Michael Gove

Education Secretary Michael Gove is a neo-conservative and Zionist who shares the views of Samuel P Huntington that a ‘clash of civilisations’ along cultural and religious lines is threatening Britain. In 2006 he published Celsius 7/7 with a chapter entitled ‘The Trojan Horse’. Gove writes that, ‘if we believe in the superiority of our way of life’ then ‘we should be working to spread democracy around the world’. This was his motivation in voting for the bombing of Syria in the House of Commons. For Gove, ‘a sizeable minority’ of Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims hold ‘rejectionist Islamist views’ which he compares to Nazism in Germany. He describes fundamentalists as both violent and secretive as they smuggle their views into British society. The original Trojan Horse of the ancient war between Greeks and Trojans was left as a Greek gift inside the gates of Troy but was filled with soldiers who leapt out at night and destroyed the city. The most recent Trojan Horse plot was exposed by an anonymous letter, widely believed to be a fake, describing a supposed plot by Islamic fundamentalists to take over schools in Birmingham. Gove has used this letter to attack, not only the entire Muslim population of Britain, but also Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

 

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Muslim schools targeted by Islamophobia

Both the academies project started by Labour and the Coalition’s so-called ‘free school’ scheme have the goal of breaking up the state education system under Local Authority control. In this they have been successful, with the inevitable result that the £4 billion budget for ‘free’ schools is draining money away from Local Education Authorities, which are now forbidden to build or open new schools. Most recently, Education minister Michael Gove has been accused of raiding £400 million from a fund intended to safeguard local authority primary school provision to prop up his pet free school project.

 

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Education: Mr Gove exposes himself

Education Secretary Michael Gove has hit the headlines non-stop this year as he raises the banner of neo-conservatism over the heads of the coalition government to show that he stands for the interests of the right bloc.

Eton

In a bid to spike old Etonian Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership pretensions, Gove said that the number of Etonians (fees £33,000 a year) in government circles is ‘ridiculous’ and ‘I don’t know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy’. Gove’s usual cant is that the education system must be changed so that each child can be ‘the author of their own life story’. Lies and sentimentality hide the deep purposes of Gove, which are to dismantle and privatise state education, selling it off to profit-making businesses or giving it away to ideological friends. This is the real project behind his academy and ‘free’ schools programmes.

 

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Education notes - Eton College on Benefits Street

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

The unemployed and the working poor have been the targets of a vicious hate campaign whipped up by the ruling class and its servants in the British media, most recently with the furore over the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street. This is ‘class war from above’. Combined with the racism directed against migrant workers from Eastern Europe, an atmosphere of hate, rivalry and fear dominates large sections of society. The ruling class is confident that it has defeated any challenge to cut state welfare to the bone, can blame the poor for the crisis and secure its privileged way of life. With silence and cunning it covers up the huge transfers of public money, massive subsidies and tax relief to their private finances.

 

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Education notes: Department for Education pimps for private business

‘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.

 

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Students protest against cuts and privatisation, and in solidarity with university workers – December 2013

At the start of December 2013, lecturers in the University and College Union (UCU) staged a one-day strike over pay and conditions. Numerous university campuses were occupied, both in solidarity with the lecturers and in protest against privatisation of higher education and attacks on students’ right to organise. The management at various universities have responded with violence. On the evening of 4 December, at Malet Street in London students were savagely attacked by both university security guards and the police.

 

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Outsourcing yields very tasty profits

‘The future of the Empire, the triumph of social progress and the freedom of the British race depend not so much upon the strengthening of the Army as upon fortifying the children of the State for the battle of life.’ House of Commons debate on free school meals, 1905

Following the introduction of compulsory elementary education in Britain in 1870, school attendance was very low in impoverished areas. Those reformers who wanted a modern state system to match Britain’s industrial and military rival Germany united with progressive movements concerned with child poverty to demand the provision of a free hot school lunch to encourage poor pupils to attend. The 1906 Act empowered local authorities to spend money out of the rates to feed needy children.

 

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Education notes: The neoliberal blame game

A quick survey of end-of-term school reports this year would note the frequent use of the latest education jargon: ‘He/she must make the right choices … must think about the choices he/she makes’. This refers to time in and out of the classroom, to behaviour and to learning, whether the pupil is aged five or 15. It is a deliberate, strategic manoeuvre by the managers of capitalism everywhere to transfer responsibility for collapsing social services onto individuals, in what the US Monthly Review calls the ‘neoliberal blame game’.1 Blame deflects criticism from the ruling class and suggests that there are personality and motivational solutions to the crisis of public services. Nurses must be more ‘caring’; teachers must have higher ‘aspirations’; pupils must make better ‘choices’.

 

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Student loans for sale – everything must go

In June 2012 universities minister David Willetts told MPs: ‘In the letter that every student gets there are some words to the effect that governments reserve the right to change the terms of the loans. That is a text that has always been there for students, but we have no plans to change the framework we have explained to the House of Commons.’

 

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Privatisation of higher education

Across Britain, university services are being outsourced to private companies and the conditions of lecturers and staff are under attack, as private investors circle like vultures. However, a fightback is gaining force, having started earlier this year at Sussex University.

 

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Education notes: Education for sale

British education businesses conquer the world

Selling private education round the world is fast becoming a major British export as national governments fail to deliver state education to their people. This international trade is not just in schools, buildings and teachers but in selling off-the-shelf training, assessment, inspection and curriculum packages. An expanding number of countries including China, India, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Kazakhstan, South Korea, South Africa, Nigeria, Pakistan and Ghana are buying in services from British multinational companies Gems, Education Solutions, CfBT, and Nord Anglia to resell to their citizens. Today 70% of Delhi’s schoolchildren attend British-based multinational for-profit schools, while over a million Chinese students a year sit the equivalent of imported and very English A-levels, more than the entire UK market.

 

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The rights of the disabled child – March 2013

Those who think that ‘political correctness’ is no more than a scheme to stop tasteless jokes about people who are perceived as different should think again. In the bleak days of the past children who were born with physical disabilities or learning difficulties were regarded with superstitious hatred and often locked away from the community. Campaigners fought for integrated schooling as the best option for the majority of children with special needs, including those with physical disabilities, and have largely been vindicated. The long struggle to include the rights of all in the rights of the child, irrespective of class, race, gender or ability was adopted and enshrined in the 1994 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) Salamanca Statement which described inclusive education as ‘combating discriminatory attitudes and creating welcoming communities’. Provision for a wide spectrum of children with learning needs was introduced into mainstream schools in the UK.

 

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Education Note: The ‘bad man’ theory of history

The task of socialists is to understand changes in society as the expression of class conflict and class interests and this should hold true in all cases. There are times, however, when the impact of one individual is so powerful, a Thatcher or a Blair, that it is a temptation to see unfolding events as the result of one bad man or woman. Today, Education Minister Michael Gove is that kind of man. He stands exposed as a villain, a fool, an opinionated right-wing enemy of the people single-handedly determined to destroy the British state education system.

 

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Education notes: Gove shrinks state education

Behind the summer’s headlines of ConDem ‘omnishambles’, in reality the Coalition government has been ruthlessly pursuing its real agenda – to shrink state education. Controversies over exam results, sports funding, junk food in academies, and dead-end free schools are media buzzes that Education Secretary Michael Gove will tolerate in pursuit of his goal – to break up, downsize and privatise as much of the state education system as possible. The chaos and misery that Gove leaves in his wake is of no concern to a government that embodies the rampant need of the capitalist class to find new sources of profitable investment.

 

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No armed forces in our schools

In recent months secondary schools across Glasgow have been the focus of British Army recruitment drives. As always it is the schools situated in the most predominantly working class areas that are given the most intense scrutiny. With unemployment figures on the rise, a career in the British Army is once again being touted as the way to escape the decimation of living standards. As an Army representative put it: ‘Employment with the Army represents a chance to see the world, to meet new people and defend the lifestyle you love ... it is a wonder that you are not paying us’.

 

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Academy schools: bribes and false promises

The rush for schools to convert into academies has reached fever pitch. The government anticipated that there would be about 400 schools, both secondary and primary, by now, but in two years 1,421 new academies, added to those set up under Labour, make a total of 1,807 – and rising. Academies are state-funded ‘independent’ schools that are taken out of local education authorities (LEAs); they may receive funds from charities, wealthy individuals, religious foundations or corporate sponsors. Michael Gove, the education secretary, plans to turn the majority of state schools into academies under this ConDem government. Although the main weapon for ‘turning’ schools is extra funding, cash bribery, Gove has also used emergency legislation (introduced by the Labour government for the purposes of anti-terrorism) to impose academy status on schools that refuse to change, like Downhills Primary School in Haringey (see FRFI 225).

 

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Plunder of the public purse

Education Notes

In the UK today the privatisation of the state education system leads directly to the distribution of spoils to individuals and groups favoured by the government. The Academies and ‘free’ schools programmes are designed to siphon off public money and Education Secretary Michael Gove has championed a system of patronage. One of his former advisers, Rachel Wolf, has become the latest in a long run of individuals to personally benefit from the privatisation of the education system. Wolf runs the New Schools Network, a so-called charity to promote ‘free’ schools; in reality devoted to the break-up the state system. The New Schools Network received a £500,000 grant from the Department for Education (DfE) for its work. No other organisation was asked to bid for the work and the role was not publicly advertised.

 

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Education Notes - The Academies swindle

‘It was beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.’

O Henry, The Octopus Marooned

The Academies programme is a swindle promoted by a government of swindlers that sets back the struggle for working class education by 70 years. The swindle is based on the lie that the private sector, businesses and corporations can provide better education for all than the public sector and make profits at the same time. The swindle is saying that the private sector will respond to the needs and wishes of all parents who want to choose a good school for their children. The swindle hides the vast sum of money that is being transferred from public finances to the private sector to enrich business corporations. The swindle is state funding diverted into the pockets of the government’s supporters, including the Church of England and business leaders, as a reward for political support.

 

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Education notes: Mr Gove and his box of magic trick

When it comes to making money disappear from education and turn up in somebody’s pocket, Education Secretary Michael Gove is the best. He knows how to conjure up the illusion of supply and demand while actually creating winners and losers in the distribution of funding for education for the working class. So we watch while an unseemly scramble for buildings and land unfolds as Gove hands out public property like goody bags at a party. In the small town of Beccles, Suffolk, for example, there is a fight for resources going on.  The new Academy, Sir John Leman High, planned to increase pupil intake but local parents have just been granted permission to set up a ‘free’ school and have been given the building promised to the new Academy. ‘If two schools were to open, both would be half empty or one would be almost completely empty and would have to close’ says the headteacher Jeremy Rowe. Academies and ‘free’ schools are both a rip-off from public money and will lead to chaos in school provision. Michael Gove shrugs off such difficulties. He waves his wand and chants the magic spell, ‘let the market decide’. The truth is that the government does not care. There is a political battle going on; a fight to dismantle the state and shrink the entitlement of the working class to education, health and welfare services.

 

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There is no such thing as a free lunch...or a free school

The one truth that ever came out of Margaret Thatcher’s mouth was the old saying, ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. She was correct. The wealth of society comes from natural resources together with human labour power at the cost of human effort and the depletion of nature. The rich and the powerful loot social wealth as private property leaving the remainder to be distributed through the capitalist state and rationed out to the majority. That is why 3.8 million children live in poverty while the top 10% of individuals get 40% of all personal income and a handful of aristocrats own a third of all land in the UK.

 

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Education notes - How not to spend the money

Ten years ago Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, signalled that the attack on state education would be nasty when he commented, ‘the day of the bog-standard comprehensive school is over’. Hundreds of instructions, targets and tests flooded from six Labour Education Secretaries over 13 years to impose iron discipline on schools and colleges. Blair fulfilled his election platform of ‘education, education, education’ by expanding layers of consultants, inspectors and ‘specialists’ into the system. The education budget increased from £29 billion in 1997 to £60 billion in 2010 making the system not just ‘underfunded’ but ‘mis-funded’. Today, 25.2% of Key Stage 1 pupils, aged from 5 to 7 years, are still taught in classes of over 30, 20% of pupils leave school at 16 with few or no examination passes and school truancy which stood at 0.7% in 1997 was 6.27% in 2010.

 

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