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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Bribery and corruption in the school system

Education notes

Head teachers are reporting that cuts in school budgets will lead to the immediate loss of 17,000 jobs in schools. However, Education Secretary Gove has laid out a pathway by which schools might be able to maintain or enlarge their budgets – convert to Academy status. Schools can get a windfall of more than £600,000 upon becoming Academies, like Balcarras School in Cheltenham. The bribe money is calculated by a complicated funding formula known as the ‘local authority central spend equivalent grant’ (Lacseg). This calculates the cash transfer away from the local education authority (LEA) and directs money straight into individual schools to enable them to buy-in additional services, for example, behaviour support, school improvement and central administrative staff, from private sector businesses.

 

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Not ‘dream’ schools but nightmares

In the Channel 4’s series Jamie Oliver’s Dream School, a group of hand-picked young people are seen to be acting badly in front of well-known personalities who provide a one-off lesson. It is an insult to the pupils, who put on their worst Big Brother behaviour and play up to the cameras. It is also an insult to the real problems of a state education system that is facing unprecedented budget cuts to an already unjust and divisive school and further education system. Here are some of the real-life nightmares facing schools.

 

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English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) – target of the cuts! - 26 Feb 2011

English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) – target of the cuts! - 26 Feb 2011The proposal to cut free ESOL, English lessons provided in colleges and by charities across the country, is a direct attack on the future of asylum seekers and refugees in Britain.

ESOL will no longer be free for those who need it, but only for ‘priority groups’ – those unemployed and those on income support. The majority of those on low wages will have to pay at least 50% for lessons – many of whom will not be able to afford this alongside basic living expenses. Asylum seekers will be some of the hardest hit; they will have to pay at least 50% of the cost, and yet aren’t allowed to work or claim Jobseeker’s Allowance whilst waiting for a decision.  The voucher support many receive cannot be exchanged for lessons, meaning access to lessons is impossible. The only hope for those who can’t afford is to try and get a space with a charity, but with lessons already heavily subscribed, the provision for all simply won’t be possible.

 

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Students mobilise against attacks on education

Students across the country have continued to mobilise to defend the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA – the grant of up to £30 a week that enables many sixth-formers to stay in education) and the right to university education for all.

In doing so they have had to challenge the abject failure of the National Union of Students (NUS) to support their direct action (see FRFI 218), forming student councils in many universities to democratically guide the new movement, outside the control of the NUS. Labour apparatchik Aaron Porter, President of the NUS, who originally condemned students who occupied Millbank in November as ‘despicable’, was forced to apologise for his comments. However, students are clearly not fooled by this opportunist: at a demonstration against university fees called by the TUC in Manchester on 29 January he was jeered and heckled, eventually having to be escorted away by police ‘for his own protection’!

 

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Class privilege: still the driving force of the education system in Britain

What’s going on, Gove?

Education Secretary Michael Gove is a devious man. He has a vision of every school being independent of state shackles but in reality his plans for ‘free’ schools and academies are stumbling along with very little vision and rather a lot of money from central government. His every announcement about cuts in government spending provokes such roars of outrage that he has had to immediately retract or modify them – or has he? Was money cut from the Book Start Scheme or not, following protests from children’s authors? Will School Sports Partnerships be cut after leading sports people objected? Will the funding for the £38.1 million-a-year Creative Partnerships project be withdrawn despite the fury of critics including actor Sir Ian McKellen? Answers remain vague. What is certain is that 75% of state schools face cuts in real terms in the next academic year.

 

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Stop the cuts! Defend the protesters!

FRFI supporters around Britain have been participating in demonstrations against tuition fees, the cutting of EMA and the creeping privatisation of education. On 29 January FRFI joined the national anti-cuts march in London and the student and trade union march in Manchester, where sell-out NUS leader Aaron Porter needed a police escort to protect him from angry students.

 

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FRFI editor speaks at UCL occupation - 2 Dec 2010

ucl_ocupationOn 2 December, David Yaffe from the editorial board of FRFI spoke as a guest at a panel meeting inside the UCL occupation on the question of the cuts and the alternative.

Also on the panel were Graham Turner, a former City economist, and representatives of Socialist Appeal, the Green Party and Workers Power. The meeting was organised by students who have been occupying the Jeremy Bentham Room in UCL since the second day of national action against fees and cuts on Wednesday 24 November.

 

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Dismantling state education

The ConDem government will enforce cutbacks in public spending of between 10% and 15% to the education budget. As part of this offensive, a new Education Bill was steam-rollered through Parliament by Education Secretary Michael Gove, using emergency powers, within weeks of the new government’s election. Every school in England received a letter inviting it to apply for Academy status, containing a ‘ready reckoner’ to work out how much extra cash it could receive if it took up the offer. The ground was prepared for the attack on working-class education.

 

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Labour opened the school gates and the Coalition walked in

Each policy announcement from Michael Gove, the new Coalition government Education Secretary, has its roots in the legislation of the previous Labour government. Academy schools, for example, dreamed up in Prime Minister Blair’s office, were originally a blatant gift of state school buildings, land and infrastructure to businesses, religious and charitable organisations. At first the owners of the Academy schools were expected to contribute £2 million towards the £10 million worth of new buildings and resources they were given. Little of this money was received. Why was the state paying for new schools and then donating them to the private sector as a strange hybrid, the private state school?

 

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Spies on Campus

uclOn 13 July Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May announced the government’s plans to conduct an ‘urgent review’ of counter-terrorism and security powers and the dismantling of the Labour government’s ‘Prevent strategy’.  The Preventing Violent Extremism Programme (known simply as Prevent) provided funding for surveillance, intelligence and counter-terrorism against Muslims in Britain, with specific focus on a number of areas, including mosques, community centres, prisons and universities.  Whether the change in government will in practice signal a reduction in such activity remains to be seen.

 

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Education ‘The golden age of outsourcing’

At the end of May, Education Secretary Michael Gove wrote to every primary and secondary school in England urging them to opt out of local authority control and seek academy status; groups such as parents and teachers are to have powers to set up their own state-funded ‘free’ schools.

In reality this will mean the acceleration of a two-tier system in education, as high-performing schools in affluent areas are fast-tracked through to academy status, with greater autonomy over curriculum and staffing and the ability to select 10% of pupils by ‘aptitude’. The new government promises a ‘pupil premium’ for disadvantaged pupils, but in reality the new policies will further fragment the education system, exacerbating the divide between ‘outstanding schools’ that suck in resources, highly-qualified staff and middle-class pupils, and sink schools for the working class. Michael Gove is taking schools back to before the 1944 Education Act, when autonomous grammar school were distinct from, and privileged over, the local board schools.

 

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Education Notes: Hot air, inequality and cutbacks

If I ruled the world

Vladimir Lenin is said to have described the British House of Commons as ‘the biggest gas works in Europe’. If he meant that it is full of hot air and bluster, he was spot on, particularly in the run-up to a General Election. Politicians are spouting platform promises about their vision for the future and how they will improve education – if they get your vote. The Tories want teaching to be a ‘noble profession’, Labour wants ‘world class’ training and skills. Such election pledges are no different to any wish list saying: ‘If I ruled the world, all schools, colleges and universities would be excellent all the time and all teachers and students would be great’. In reality education budgets will be cut or stagnate and the uneven distribution of resources will be reinforced by continued privatisation and privilege.

 

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Education notes: No surprises in summer exam results – only pain

Summer 2009 saw the usual media headlines as GCSE and A level results came out. They swung between celebration at rising pass levels to criticism about the standard and value of different subjects and exam boards. Overall, the published results confirmed that money for private education and selection of the brightest pupils is the key to success. A report from the Joint Council for Qualifications on GCSE results showed that private schools have extended their lead over comprehensive schools, with more than half of GCSE exams taken by students at fee-paying schools awarded an A or A*, compared with 17.3% from comprehensive schools. Selective Grammar school pupils outperformed students in private schools, with 55% achieving A or A*, compared with 53.7% at private schools. Exam results A*-C were awarded to 95.3% of Grammar school pupils, compared with 91.8% of pupils at private schools and 64% at comprehensives.

 

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Learn now – pay later

FRFI 171 February / March 2003

The Labour government’s announcement in January that universities could charge fees of up to £3,000 to ‘home’ students has signalled the acceleration of a two-tier higher education system in Britain, increasingly modelled on the US.

The White Paper proposes that students finance their own higher education through personal borrowing. The current yearly £1,100 up-front course fees will be replaced by charges, initially capped, of a maximum £3,000 a year. Students will graduate with an estimated average debt of £18,000-£21,000 after three years (up from £12,000 at present). Labour argues that this level of debt is acceptable because, it claims, a university education guarantees the ‘average’ graduate an extra £400,000 over their lifetime. This is simply not true, particularly for those who enter the public sector (including nurses and teachers), and black and women workers who receive lower wages. Labour claims that making higher-earning graduates pay higher taxes in the future will not give universities the income boost they demand now.

 

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Education Notes: reasons to be cheerful

As the recession deepens and cuts are made in state education, we can find reasons to be cheerful. Resistance to further academy schools at the ex­pense of local authority schools is growing, Ofsted the inspectorate are exposed as fools and privatisation plans are in a total mess.

The anti-academy alliance
Tony Blair’s pet idea of giving rich individuals and institutions ownership and control over state schools is in trouble. The list of wealthy sponsors with a taste for patronage who turn out to have dodgy business practices is growing. Carphone Warehouse mogul David Ross, who failed to declare that he had backed a personal loan with £120m-worth of shares, is the ‘first and founding sponsor’ of Havelock Academy in Grimsby. That means he appoints the majority of the governors and owns the land and buildings. Ross has resigned from the Olympic Games organising committee, but it is unclear whether he is still regarded as a suitable owner of an academy school. In March, Lord Bhatia, founder of Edutrust, an education business with the subsidiary Edutrust Academies Charitable Trust, had to resign. It was found that £60,000 ‘excess’ rent was paid to the Ethnic Minority Foundation of which Bhatia is co-founder. But irrespective of entrepreneurs who are a little too eager to put their hand in the till, the whole notion of the supremacy of the private sector over the public is shown to be a sham. Revelations about the incompetence and sheer greed for profits that has driven the banking sector into bankruptcy have knocked the academies agenda on the head. Council after council, often pushed on by parents’ and teachers’ protests, have abandoned plans to demolish local schools and open academies. Dudley, Sheffield and Ellesmere Port councils are among the growing list of local education authorities to axe academy proposals.

 

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