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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