- Created: Monday, 19 December 2011 14:45
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.
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.
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012