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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‘Those are my principles – if you don’t like them I have others’ Groucho Marx

Alan Milburn and James Purnell are two Labour cabinet ministers who resigned earlier this year as revelations about expenses claims and payments for outside jobs accelerated the decline of electoral support for Labour. Since then both men have criticised Labour’s record – not a difficult task. Purnell – who wants to charge the unemployed 26% interest for crisis loans – argues that ‘we will be a more successful country if we open up to free trade; we need to say that immigration is good for the country’. Milburn – who supports the privatisation of the NHS – takes the line that personal education vouchers of £5,000 are necessary to ‘unleash aspirations’ for education and training for those whose parents are not rich (the Tory voucher scheme). This thrashing around for soundbite politics is not just the noise of those who are leaving a sinking ship. It is the sound of electoral opportunism as Labour manoeuvres to win the next election. For Cabinet Minister John Denham the problem is just that ‘the number of people who sign up to a traditional egalitarian view of society is simply too small to construct a strong, viable and inclusive electoral coalition’.

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Education notes: The education profiteers

The plan and the unplanned
Michael Binyon OBE, Master of the Royal Livery Company of Leathersellers in the City of London, has many interests in defence of the British establishment, as diplomat, spy watcher, Times and Times Educational Supplement columnist. In 1984 he published a commentary, Life in Russia, in which he attacked what he called ‘the tyranny of the plan’. But events at Lewisham Bridge School tell us all we need to know about the chaos of the unplanned. Leathersellers is owner of the Lewisham school site, a small primary in the heart of the deprived south London borough. Both Leathersellers and Lewisham Council want to demolish the primary school. They have ambitions for the future of the site, namely a new all-through 3-16 years Foundation school. The existing Special Needs Unit and Travellers’ Education Service will have no place in the scheme.

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