Education notes: Mr Gove and his box of magic tricks/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

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.

Go compare

A new searchable databank for schools has been launched which Gove describes as the educational equivalent of the consumer-price comparison website Go Compare. Up to five local schools can be compared side by side against criteria such as exam performance, numbers of pupils with English as a second language, how much is spent on supply staff, admin, catering and energy costs and per-pupil funding. Over five million data inputs on England’s 22,000 state schools have been entered with one startling omission – the cost to central government expenditure on new Academy and ‘free’ schools.

Too small to fail

The number of state or ‘maintained’ schools that are converting to Academy status is growing rapidly and today one in six secondary schools are ‘Academies’, paid for by the state but sponsored by private individuals or by institutions like the Church of England. There will also be 87 ‘free’ (state-funded) schools open by September 2012. Gove boasts that both kinds of school are not in the control of the Local Education Authorities and now operate as stand-alone businesses. This is a confidence trick. These schools are not ‘free market’ enterprises, but state-funded institutions bribed and blackmailed into Academy status with the promise of   £200,000 as a one-off sweetener. Today, however, these schools are finding themselves with budget deficits of up to £500,000. Many heads and governors failed to grasp that their new status as employers would include payment for the local government pension schemes of support staff, admin staff and teaching assistants. The stand-alone business model is a con. In the words of the head of a recent Academy converter, Kingsbridge Community College, taking on pension liability ‘was a calculated risk that it would be unlikely that the government would allow their Academies to go bankrupt’. So much for free enterprise. Gove’s Academies and free schools will be selectively and heavily subsidised because they are weapons in his fight to dismantle local education.

So this is where the money goes

The United Church Schools Trust (UCST) and its subsidiary United Learning Trust (ULT) which sponsors 20 Academies and eleven private schools across the country, is advertising for a public relations company to take care of its external relations for £200,000 a year for the next five years. That is a £1 million loss to the national education budget, money being spent on public relations ‘not books and teachers’ says Russell Hobby of the head teachers’ union, NAHT. ‘It is becoming harder and harder for the government to track how these charities are spending taxpayers’ money’, says Mary Bousted of ATL teachers’ union.

EMA has gone away

The term ‘bursary’ replaced the older tag Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in the last budget. Gove said that this payment for 16-19 year olds staying on in education from families with household incomes below £20,818 would be £800 a year. Most colleges and schools are finding that they are only able to give bursaries to students eligible for free school meals with families on benefits or earning below £16,190. The number of young people staying on in education is falling rapidly. The number of those not in education, employment or training, NEETS, is rising rapidly with 15.6% of 16-24 year olds in this category nationally and 25% in some parts of the country like Doncaster, Grimsby and Tottenham (London). A spokeswoman for Gove’s education department said, ‘the figure of £800 was only meant as an illustration’. Yes, of ruling class deceit and lies. Meanwhile Gerard Syddall, the Director of Elmfield Training which receives central government funds from the National Apprenticeship Service took home a dividend of over £3 million last year. Sir Bruce Liddington, director general of the education company E-Act with responsibility for 14 Academies and free schools, gets a pay package of £280,000. No wonder there are holes in the Go Compare databank.

Infants and universities

A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies finds that the education budget faces the biggest cut since the 1950s, a ‘historically large fall over the next few years’. The 40% cut in university funding will be largely offset by higher tuition fees of £27,000 for a three year course while under-fives face a 20% cut in funding and, unfortunately, will not be able to take out a bank loan. Gove waves his magic wand and the money, the education, the support and the services disappear.

Susan Davidson

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

There is no such thing as a free lunch ... or a free school / FRFI 223 Oct/Nov 2011

FRFI 223 October/November 2011

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.

The wealthy have their ‘fee’ schools, private education for 7% of all pupils at the rate of £13,000 per year for day schools and £30,000 for boarding schools. There is no fee for the 24 new schools opening this autumn which the government and their servants in the media call ‘free’ schools. These schools, the buildings, teachers’ wages, admin staff etc, are provided by the state to a limited number of privileged children whose parents demand the advantages of private schooling, namely small classes and no national curriculum dictates, without paying the fees.

From the needy to the greedy

How has it come to pass that influential groups of individuals can now be funded by the state to set up their ‘own’ schools?  It is because successive governments will not fund the state system properly and find it cheaper to buy off sections of the middle class by offering them something extra that they will not offer the majority of working class children. In effect the Department for Education diverts resources away from the majority of pupils by lavish spending on a minority. Local Education Authorities, which are responsible for the education of the vast majority of pupils, are facing a loss of £1 billion because of the millions being spent out of their budgets and going into the pockets of individuals and groups to set up ‘free’ schools and academies in their areas. The New Schools Network, a pressure group established to break up the state sector of education to the advantage of the few, received £318,890 in five separate payments between December 2010 and June 2011 for propaganda in favour of ‘free’ schools from the Department for Education while at the same time claiming ‘charity’ status for itself.

The big money

Education Secretary Michael Gove is the true heir of the neo-liberal Blair and his education vision. Both men make big money from state payouts and selling the free enterprise spin. Blair has his £300,000 PM’s severance pay, plus £64,000 pension and spin-off lecture tours and publishing. Gove worked as a Times columnist as well as being an MP for six years. He was one of the parliamentarians who wrongly claimed expenses and when that scandal was uncovered he had to pay back £7,000 for a claim that included a cot mattress for a child. In addition to his £64,766 basic MP’s salary, he received £1,196 an hour from Murdoch’s News International and Gove himself says he was paid £5,750 for three hours work. He currently has a contract with the Murdoch publisher Harper Collins to write a historical biography. His continued closeness to the Murdoch press is no doubt guaranteed by the employment of his wife, Sarah Vine, as a Times columnist. Gove is silent on the suitability of New International’s Rebekah Brooks, who is involved in the phone-hacking scandal, to be on the board of governors of Fulwood Academy in Preston (sponsored by Carphone Warehouse tycoon Charles Dunstone).

Looting from the education budget

Enormous wages have become accepted for top education managers and headteachers and so have big payouts for severance (the sack). The Skills Funding Agency offered £300,000 payout to director Mary Conneely who was in post for just three months. A former senior executive of the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) got a compensation package of £549,457 when she chose not to relocate from London to new offices in Manchester. In fact a total of 18 people who voluntarily left the TDA went with a package worth more than £100,000 each. The National College for School Leadership paid an ‘exit’ package of between £300,000 and £350,000 to a redundant staff member, according to its annual report. Meanwhile the modest education maintenance allowance (EMA) for 16 to 19-year-olds in education from low-income households, was abolished in January 2011. The new bursary payments are a fifth of the EMA and for most schools and colleges these work out at £5 per student per week.

What is happening is both corrupt and secretive. David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East where local schools face a £50 million backlog of repair work, has failed to find out how much money is being taken out of the budget  for two Bradford ‘free’ schools. He says that he will pursue the issue ‘to the ends of the earth’ to get answers. ‘This is public money we are talking about which will be used to fund what I think will effectively be private schools and I am not having it.’ He will have to be very determined to get answers. The price of the 24 ‘free’ schools opening this year has been estimated at £110-£130 million but the real costs are unknown. It is criminal that huge wages, settlements and the transfer of finances to favoured groups are grabbed by some, while cuts, underfunding and unemployment are imposed on others. The British ruling class are the real looters.

Susan Davidson

Education notes - How not to spend the money / FRFI 222 Aug/Sep 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 222 August/September 2011

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.

The great give-away

Meanwhile, central government has broken off marketable chunks of education. School cleaning, meals, payroll services – the whole infrastructure of educational institutions – was outsourced in a transfer of public money that guaranteed both capital and a steady market to private companies. Labour gave away entire schools, complete with public land and buildings, initially for a small contribution but later entirely free, to Academy sponsors. These may be the Church of England, banks, the army, mosques, or any other group that wants to advertise its influence.

It’s capitalism, stupid!

Devout Christian and millionaire businessman Sir Peter Vardy was sponsor of Emmanuel City Technology College (CTC) in Gateshead. In 2002 the school was criticised for allegedly teaching creationism, but the issue was defused by Tony Blair, who opened a second Vardy Foundation Academy in Middlesbrough and rewarded Sir Peter with a knighthood. By 2010 Sir Peter had given away Emmanuel college and its three sister schools to another federation, the United Learning Trust (ULT), which runs 21 state-funded schools. John Burn, retired Principal of Emmanuel CTC, complains that ‘everything was done behind closed doors without the knowledge of the school principals, the governors, the parents or the local communities which these schools serve’ and concludes that ‘schools which join federations seeking the freedoms promised them as Academies may opt out of their local authority only to find themselves ultimately within a structure that is more restrictive, less accountable and from which there is no escape’.

Inevitably the ‘free’ autonomous schools, paid for by the state, will not exist as independent units for more than a few years before being swallowed up by large private Academy sponsors. This move towards centralisation and corporate management is characteristic of the education market. Economies of scale require continual expansion in order to sustain profit margins. The private services company Capita now controls the Management Information Systems of 80% of schools, charging up to £25,000 to relicense back office computer systems. School payments to Capita are expected to reach £500 million in the next three years. This is how capitalism works.

Education not for sale

However, the education of the whole working class can never be turned into an investor’s market entirely. The edges of state education that are being nibbled away by the private sector are relatively small. There are 3,127 maintained or LEA school in the UK while the most predatory education business E-Act runs 11 schools at present, but aims to operate 250 Academies within five years provided that central government continues to provide finance. It is in private schools, which charge in excess of £24,000 a year, where the state only intervenes to give charitable status and tax relief, that education is truly for sale.

A very English institution

People are sometimes bewildered why England’s most expensive and elite private schools, attended by just 7% of the school population, are called ‘public schools’. The answer is in the history of the rise of the merchant class who wanted schooling for their sons. While the aristocracy kept resident tutors, cheaper establishments were founded where the students would go to the tutor. Over time schools such as Eton (1440) Rugby (1567) and Westminster (1560) attracted enormous endowments and became, as they remain today, the training ground for the next generation of the ruling class. The earliest English universities of Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge) were the next destination for many of these young men – and so it remains today. Oxbridge and the public schools continue to dominate the institutions of British society with 35% of current MPs, 82% of current cabinet ministers and 67% of judges having attended Eton and/or Oxbridge. Just 3% of English schools account for almost one third of undergraduate admissions to Oxbridge. Now, as always, the ruling class holds on tight to its privileges and power.

Susan Davidson

Bribery and corruption in the school system / FRFI 221 Jun/Jul 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 221 June/July 2011

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.

Cashing in on Academies

Academy schools operate independently of local education authorities with the stated aim of controlling their own curriculum and staff wages and conditions all of which are passed off as ‘ethos’. The Lacseg money gift to schools is unmonitored and unaccountable. The Head of Balcarras School in Cheltenham, for example, has estimated that of the £600,000 received (and lost to the LEA) only £30,000 will be spent on replacing previously centrally provided services. But then Balcarras School, a comprehensive rated as ‘outstanding’ by the inspectorate Ofsted, has little need of learning support services. This cash nexus is inspiring many similarly ‘outstanding’ schools to transfer to Academy status. Kendrick Girls Grammar School in Reading has told parents it expects £669,000 payment for Lacseg but assures them that the school already has ‘all the freedoms we want’.

Unsurprisingly there is now a stampede to transfer to Academy status with nearly 1,000 schools waiting to apply, including primary, grammar and faith schools. In the queue are Special Educational Needs Schools with the aim of getting ‘a good deal’ for their pupils and a very large donation.

This cash bribe to split away from LEAs and come under the direct control of the Department for Education will not last long. In January ministers reduced the general spending of local authorities by £148 million in 2011-12 and a further £265 million for the following year to pay for the academies transfer policy. Clearly the rate at which this pot of money is disappearing means that the cupboard will be bare very soon and indeed the government has warned of ‘significant budget reductions’ and a new Academy funding system by 2013.

Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation and other horrors

Prime Minister Tony Blair encouraged the establishment and extension of faith schools. Now, as millionaire and philanthropist, he continues to support global religiosity with his well-resourced Faith Foundation. At present in Britain one third of all state-funded schools are ‘schools with a religious character’, the legal term for faith schools. Today, 18% of secondary and 37% of primary schools are faith schools. This number is set to increase rapidly with the offer of government cash gifts and inducements, including dropping the need to employ qualified teachers, to any group of people who wish to set up a ‘free’ school.

A variety of Christian groups plan to establish schools and control their own curriculum. There is alarm from the scientific community, including the prestigious Association for Science Education, the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Biology about the very real possibility that the teaching of science will be marginalised or dropped and will be replaced by a variety of creationist mythologies. Catholic and Church of England Schools are preparing to extend their power base by offering services to fill the void produced by cuts to LEAs. In the words of Bishop Pritchard of Oxford, ‘The local education authority is going to wither on the vine’. We need to embrace, ‘schools that are traditionally outside the church family. It’s all to play for’.

Playing the money game

The more the government talks about ‘driving up standards’ in education, the more there is a scramble for cash. School headed notepaper is for sale to companies hoping to sell private tuition services. More than 25,000 schools are in receipt of payments for sending out company advertising material for Student Support Centre DVD lessons for Key stage 1-4. While schools do not endorse the material, parents are begged to send replies to the school ‘as a source of fundraising’.

Chasing the funds has proved ‘embarrassing’ this year for Manchester Health Academy, which is sponsored by the Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust. No pupils were entered for GCSE Biology this year. Pupils covered a more ‘digestible curriculum’, said the Head.

The market drives up prices

Our capitalist masters labour under the illusion that the privatisation of services and the marketisation of the education system are more efficient than state provision and are not in contradiction to the needs of learning. Or perhaps they don’t and merely care about transferring cash to their friends in big business for short term benefit and to hell with the rest of it.

On university tuition fees, for example, the £9,000 annual cost was initially described as the maximum charge for the ‘best’ colleges. Now, however, all Further-to-Higher Education colleges (those sending students on to university) are under pressure from a price-fixing ring to charge the full £9,000 per annum for the degree-level qualifications that they offer. Hoping to set fees at £7,000 a year, the Principal of Blackburn College has been told by his partner at the University of Central Lancashire to raise fees to the maximum level or cut ties with the university.

Overall the plan is that when the next round of budget cuts carves up education, the fightback will be disarmed and divided. Thankfully nearly 80% of teachers consider Michael Gove’s performance at the Ministry of Education to be ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

Susan Davidson

Not ‘dream’ schools but nightmares /FRFI 220 April/May 2011

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 220 April/May 2011

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.

Budget cuts

In the coming financial year schools are facing the prospect of cutting up to a fifth of their staff. One way out of making redundancies now is the promise of a pot of government cash that will protect budgets if schools turn into Academies. This is a decision for the Head alone – there is no meaningful consultation. A directive in a December 2010 letter from Lord Hill, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools, to heads of schools that have applied for conversion to Academy status, makes it clear that once interested parties have been informed, opposition from parents or unions is pointless: ‘There is no need for schools to agree to a request from NASUWT [teaching union] to halt or amend the conversion process’. Staff at the school will be automatically transferred from Local Education Authority employment to the Academy Trust. Current staff will be granted ‘like for like’ employment protection (TUPE) for the duration. Any ballots ‘on the potential adverse impact on job security, pay and conditions of service and union recognition’ can be ignored. Hill says that ‘one of the key freedoms of Academy status is to set pay and conditions’. So much for collective bargaining and parental choice. In a time of austerity, bribery is the chosen tool of government.

Abuse of public funds

Academies, originally designed by ‘faith-friendly’ Blair and ‘business-friendly’ Brown, are ‘given’ to companies, religious groups, banks and big institutions such as universities which determine the curriculum, teachers’ wages and conditions and overall ‘ethos’ (a useful word for propaganda). At first, £2 million or so had to be paid for a school, its buildings, playgrounds and infrastructure. Today, however, there is a shortage of Academy sponsors, so most Academies are financed directly from Whitehall as ‘state-run independent’ schools. The National Audit Office (NAO) has recently warned that the ‘long-term financial health of Academies is unstable’ because many sponsors saw their credit status plunge in the financial crisis. NAO also notes that handing over so much public money to private, unaccountable management is ‘risky’, meaning subject to inefficiency, waste and corrupt practices.

Free schools paid for out of lunch money

The ‘free’ schools that are being set up by parents and others will be able to dig into a pot of money that was originally intended to pay for free school meals to an additional half a million children who live in poverty. Currently only the children of parents on unemployment benefit are entitled to a free meal, despite the fact that 40% of people living in poverty are actually in employment.

A school place for everyone?

Another nightmare scenario is that once the overview of the supply and demand for school places is taken away from Local Education Authorities, there is chaos. The superb £24 million new building of Christ the King School in Merseyside was completed in 2009. A year and half later it faces closure because of a shortage of pupils. It is well known that the demographic of school populations is notoriously hard to predict. Future planning will be made even more difficult as a variety of ‘do-it-yourself’ schools spring up, financed by the state but run by parents and staffed by unqualified teachers with little or no accountability to outside bodies. While the number of such ‘free’ schools will always be very small, they can have a disproportionate effect on neighbouring schools where the school budget is decided by the numbers of pupils on roll and falling numbers are equated with ‘failing’ schools. There are approximately 13 million children and young people of school age in Britain. Their statutory right to a school place in their neighbourhood is threatened by this ongoing fragmentation of the state education system.

The nightmare continues

The muddled and spiteful directives streaming out of the Department for Education all add to the chaos. Geography and History are now to be prioritised at GCSE but funding for these subjects is to be cut by 100% for universities. Every child in the country will have cognitive development assessments by the age of two and a half to monitor for Special Needs support, but hundreds of Sure Start programmes will be slashed throughout the country or privatised, as proposed for the 36 Sure Start projects in Greater Manchester.

In real school, not ‘dream’ school, the future is bleak for young people. At the age of 16, Jamie’s students will already have been graded since the age of five in four national tests. They now face a 25% unemployment rate, loss of Education Maintenance Allowance, larger classes and fewer teachers. The most important lesson they can now learn is to fight for their rights.

Susan Davidson

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