Boycott the racist school census: Keep border controls out of our classrooms

school census

The Home Office has admitted that it intends to use data from this year’s school census to create a ‘hostile environment’ for migrant children. For the first time, from October 2016, the school census includes questions about nationality and country of birth. The Department of Education will pass on information on up to 1,500 children a month to immigration officials, bringing the UK Border Agency right into Britain’s classrooms. The information is used to track down and deport migrant children and their families. When some schools and nurseries in Hackney, in east London, collected nationality information in July 2016 the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. The RCG and other activists such as Against Borders for Children (ABC) have been mobilising against the January 2017 census, encouraging all parents to show solidarity and exercise their right to write ‘refused’ next to these intrusive and patently racist questions.

This racist census is the latest assault in a much longer trajectory of the British state targeting the children of migrants. In 2013 the government discussed excluding children with ‘irregular’ immigration status from schools; in 2015 the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan called for a review of ‘education tourism’ and how much it is a ‘pull factor’ for migrants. Theresa May wanted the 2016 Immigration Act to legislate for the withdrawal of school places for children with irregular immigration status, and called for schools to check passports before accepting new pupils. This was rejected by other government officials – in favour of placing a legal duty on schools to collect pupils’ nationality and country of birth data via the census.

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Racism in education suspensions

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 1 – November/December 1979

The case of the young Rastafarian in Leeds is but one example of the vicious intolerance of the teaching profession and its desperate need to keep control and discipline over the pupils.

In June 1979 there was a public meeting instigated by the United Black Women's Action Group to tackle the immediate problems affecting black children in Haringey schools. Within the last year, and within the London Education Authority alone, black parents have met in Camden, Hackney and Brixton to organise their protests against the treatment their children are receiving from the schools. At a recent meeting of the Islington Committee for Community Relations a speaker from the Caribbean Teachers' Association described school common-rooms as 'citadels of prejudice' and urged action on racism in schools.

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Fight racist and elitist selective education

Since 2007 every school has had to submit its census twice a year.  This information identifies free school meal eligibility, ethnicity (numbers of EAL pupils – English as an additional language) and Special Educa­tional Needs. The numbers determine how much funding the government gives to each school.

This year the Department for Edu­cation has requested additional information, the nationality and country of birth of pupils to be confirmed by presentation of the child’s passport. This information is due to be sent to Department of Education on 6 Oct­ober and schools have to check nationality status every term.

Parents can, before this date, declare that they want to opt-out and refuse to give this information to schools. If they have already given this information before this date, they can instruct schools not to send this information to central government as it will end up in the hands of immigration enforcement. All schools, nurseries and child-minders should be giving parents an option to opt out from providing this additional information. School letters should have the option ‘I do not wish to provide this information’ and also state that ‘there is no requirement for the school to see your passport or birth certificate’.

Some schools and nurseries in Hackney already collected this information in July and the result was the deportation of up to 50 schoolchildren. It is vital that no parents comply so that there is a united front against this ruling. There is a good leaflet advising parents of their right to opt out at schoolsabc.net/resources which provides a template letter for parents to send to their school or nursery. Solid­arity of all parents/carers can succeed against this piece of state racism.

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The unacceptable face of capitalist education

Falmer academy protest

The attack on state education, initiated by the Labour Party’s smear on ‘bog standard’ local authority schools in 2001, has led to the massive plunder of public funds under the academies project. The budget of the Department for Education is shrinking in real terms, just like the BHS pension fund, but a stream of cash flows into the pockets of a few. While BHS boss Philip Green’s family received £307m in BHS dividends from 2002 to 2004, the pension fund of 11,000 current and 20,000 future retirees dried up. While school finances freeze, the rip-off merchants help themselves.

Ian Cleland, the chief executive of Academy Transformation Trust, which runs 21 schools in the Midlands and the east of England, receives an annual salary of £180,000 and expenses, which include joint insurance with his wife on a XJ Premier Luxury V6 Jaguar car (plus a £500 service and £402 for new tyres). In March of this year Cleland said the Trust was looking to save £500,000, and staff were required to reapply for their jobs: ‘The education sector is facing a number of significant financial challenges across the country with all schools, academies and multi-academy trusts being affected. As a result it is essential that we review our costs and consider where savings can be made, without impacting on the quality of education.’ (The Observer 24 July 2016)

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Keep the caterers: University of Manchester staff win fight over jobs and pay

The University of Manchester was left with egg on its face after it was forced to backtrack on plans to make 43 catering staff on campus and in halls of residence redundant.

The staff are employed by university subsidiary UMC Limited on zero-hours contracts with none of the protections and benefits of in-house employment. They were informed of these redundancies in March, just one month after the university agreed to pay them the Living Wage – itself the result of years of pressure from staff and students on campus. The proposals would also have changed the contracts of remaining staff from full-time to term-time, reducing their salaries by a third.

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Tories back down on academies

The Tories got it wrong

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has had to back down over plans, announced in Chancellor George Osborne’s budget, to force all schools to become academies (see FRFI 250). The proposal was foolishly dogmatic and was opposed by many, including Conservatives, who relish their role in local councils and on school governing boards and felt insulted by the idea that another institution could do the job better. Morgan got this wrong. It is as if she forgot that recent governments have been able to impose changes in the state education system only by playing off one section against another with special favours and extra grants. This was a diktat too far and there was a revolt against what was seen as the ‘nationalisation’ of the country’s schools and direct rule from Whitehall. Morgan will continue to use the inspectorate Ofsted as a useful intermediary, as it retains powers to take schools away from local education authorities if they are deemed to be ‘below the floor’.

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Academisation: this time we are all in this together

Academisation

The turmoil in the Conservative Party after the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith over proposed cuts to disability payments was spectacular. But Chancellor George Osborne’s biggest budget bombshell was the announcement that all primary and secondary schools in Britain must become Academy schools by 2022. Leaving aside the 7% of pupils educated in the private sector, this decision will affect the entire compulsory school population from the age of 5 to 17 years. To put this announcement in the budget speech, hijacking the role of the Education Secretary, indicates that the government has determined on far-reaching plans to change the structures of local and central government to its own advantage. This is an uncosted proposal; the only figure mentioned is the £1.5bn that will be stripped from local education authorities. Given that the current academy budget has been overspent by £1bn over two years, compulsory academisation is clearly a political priority that this government is prepared to finance whatever the cost.

Shrinking or expanding the state?

Academisation means that jurisdiction for schools is taken away from local authority control and become the direct responsibility of central government through the Department for Education (DfE). This represents a massive expansion of state-centralised control – which is why academisation has been described as ‘nationalisation’ by many commentators. The delivery of teaching, the organisation and day-to-day running of schools will be dispersed through a variety of education businesses, charities and religious foundations, otherwise known as ‘sponsors’. It is within these sponsored areas that the government intends to shrink state responsibility for schooling.

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Edinburgh school closures – the consequences of PFI

Following inspections in Gracemount and Craigmount High Schools in Edinburgh this month, 17 schools in the city were closed indefinitely following the Easter holiday. Five high schools, 10 primary schools, and two additional support schools, were found to be structurally unsound, with ‘severe defects’, leaving over 7,000 pupils unable to return to school in the run-up to exam times.

In addition many poor families in Edinburgh, who often rely on free meals to feed their children, have been severely affected. At one of the schools, Broomhouse Primary in the southwest of the city, over half of pupils qualify for free school meals. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the number of families who are forced to use food banks, as they rely on benefits or poverty wages for income.

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Student accommodation ‘the top-performing property investment field in the UK’

‘The UK student accommodation market is a rapidly expanding and increasingly lucrative field of investment. Growing faster than any other asset class since 2011, the number of UK students is predicted to grow at a rate of 15-20% over the next five years, increasing demand and making student accommodation the top-performing property investment field in the UK.’ (Select Portfolio investment newsletter, November 2015)

Investment in student housing reached a five-year high last year. According to the estate agent Savills, £5.8bn was pumped into the market in 2015. Newcastle is no exception to this growing trend, as investors rub their hands over the easy profits to be made from student accommodation. Government figures obtained by the local newspaper reveal that Newcastle has one of the highest proportions of student homes in England: ‘figures from The Department for Communities and Local Government show that the city had 7,578 homes exempt from council tax due to occupation by students. This represents 6% of the housing stock; one in 17 homes.’ (The Chronicle 19 Jan 2016)

Current schemes in Newcastle have created 11,000 student rooms since 2008. In contrast, in 2009 the council announced plans to build a mere 1,650 new council homes over a ten-year period and is currently missing this target by 38.3%. Addressing the lack of decent social housing is not an attractive investment prospect compared to the lucrative student accommodation market. The needs of communities are being overlooked whilst huge investment projects are swamping the city centre. Meanwhile, Newcastle Labour council has just unanimously voted through another £32m worth of cuts to services, bringing the total to £222m over the last five years.

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Education notes - FRFI 249 Feb/Mar 2016

Poverty haunts the classroom

Teachers are speaking up about the impact of benefit cuts on the health of their pupils. Anxiety and hunger do not make good companions to learning. Zero hours working contracts for parents make home life and meal times hard to organise. But it is the disruptive effect of the government’s bedroom tax that has been picked out as the most damaging in a new report by Professor Ruth Lupton from the University of Manchester. She says ‘the pressure put on families by this cut in benefits contributes significant hardship among low-income families.’ People are faced with the choice of paying the difference or losing their housing. Austerity means lost spaces at home and in the community with the closure of libraries, swimming pools and playgrounds. Property developers crowd in on our streets and pavements while overcrowding grows at home. There can be few more powerful indicators that the children of the working class are feared and hated than the new government policy to restrict child support to encourage the two-child family.

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Education Notes: The Academy Games

At the end of November, the first-ever Academies Show took place in Birmingham. Just like a car or garden show, over 200 suppliers laid out their stalls, pitching for sales. The programme highlight was the ministerial keynote speech, ‘Unlocking the power of academies for a world-class education system’. Panel discussions were held throughout the day with a special session on ‘Identifying Radicalisation Early and Ensuring the Protection of Vulnerable Children Within Schools’. Sponsors included the Department for Education (DfE), the Crown Commercial Service, Microsoft, Sage, and PS Financials.

What exactly is on sale here is the nation’s education system. The Academies Show aims to find sponsors to take over schools. Local Education Authority (LEA) schools are on offer to education businesses, multi-national corporations or religious foundations. In this unusual marketing enterprise it is the British state that is putting up the capital yet demanding no returns on investment.

Academy schools are state-funded schools under the patronage of sponsors and accountable only to central government. When ‘free’ schools and ‘academies’ started under the Blair government in 2000, sponsors were expected to donate £2 million to buy into the right to impose their chosen ‘ethos’ on a school – Christian, traditional or whatever. By 2005 academies were being transferred freely to sponsors and today the government is desperately offering cash inducements to sponsors to take the nation’s schools out of LEA control, or to take over failing existing academies. The political agenda of cutting state welfare expenditure requires an attack on public sector provision as a whole and must create divisions and competition within it. And so the amount of state funding given to ‘free’ schools in 2013-14 was £7,761 per pupil compared with £4,767 for LEA schools.

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Kids Company – the third sector and austerity

Camila Batmanghelidjh founded Kids Company in Camberwell in 1996

Less than a week after receiving a government grant of £3 million in July, Kids Company closed down on 5 August 2015. Its charismatic leader, Camila Batmanghelidjh, had worked in social care since 1991 when she established Place2Be, a charity for troubled children in primary schools. Place2Be now reaches 80,000 children and works in 235 schools across the UK. In 1996 she founded Kids Company, a charity for children suffering from poverty, abuse and trauma. Batmanghelidjh came across ‘hard to reach’ children in Camberwell in south London, living in conditions of severe neglect and domestic chaos. She saw that the response to early life deprivation is hostility to authority, lack of hope, and a frozen emotional state like a protective shell against further damage. She believes that damaged children can learn to trust adults only through patient interaction and therapeutic activity. Material aid such as food and shelter should be on offer at all times with an ‘open door’, street-level approach.

Kids Company grew to offer services for some 36,000 children, young people and families, many of whom were otherwise unsupported asylum seekers. Volunteers and paid staff ran alternative education centres and therapy houses, and worked with over 40 schools in London and Bristol and a performing arts programme in Liverpool. One-to- one mentoring was at the heart of the project.

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‘All-out war’ on state education

Following the general election, Prime Minister Cameron and Education Secretary Morgan declared an ‘all-out war’ on ‘coasting schools’. All schools inspected by Ofsted will be taken out of local authority control and turned into academies and ‘free’ schools if they do not show improved results year on year.

The Ofsted inspectorate is a quango, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, funded by the state. However, since it was set up in 1992 Ofsted has been used not to support schools, nurseries and child-care provision but to attack local authorities. Ofsted publishes standardised judgments on the performance of educational institutions. Significantly Ofsted’s verdicts on the success or failure of schools closely match national test results, which in England occur at the ages of four, seven, 11 and 14. Standard Attainment Targets, or Sats, were first introduced not as tests but as a tool for tracking children’s learning. Today, Sats results, together with Ofsted inspection judgments, are combined into league tables which rate schools annually against each other. Schools are graded as ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ (this was ‘satisfactory’ but the term was abandoned when Ofsted realised what the word means) or ‘inadequate’. Schools judged ‘inadequate’ are put into special measures which can mean sacking the head and/or staff and/or governors, followed by loss of reputation, pupils, income, increased workload for teachers, and regular inspections.

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Education Notes

Pre-election love-in

As the general election looms, it’s time for Party leaders to declare their undying love for schooling. David Cameron says that one of his ‘favourite things to do as Prime Minister’ is to visit inner-city schools; Ed Miliband promises that ‘as Prime Minister, I will be really deeply engaged in education. I’m a parent, I care a lot about it’, while Nick Clegg says that giving money to schools for poor pupils is his ‘greatest achievement’ as Deputy Prime Minister. He means the ‘pupil premium’ which grants a few extra pounds for ‘needy’ children. His own eldest son, like Tony Blair’s, attends the London Oratory School (92% ‘A’ exam results) and will not be needing any poverty premium. All the party leaders ensure they are snapped sitting on little chairs in classrooms. This is operation love-in to woo the votes of parents who have been told that without an ‘excellent’ education their children will have no future and, worse still, will make no contribution to the global competitiveness of Britain’s economic future.

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The GERM will win – unless we fight

The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM) is the name given to the neo-liberal target of opening up education provision to market forces, a process started in the 1980s and speeding up today.  Education Notes has tracked the impact of GERM on the British education system which has been characterised by outsourcing, deregulation and shrinking local education authorities. At long last the leading teachers’ union, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has published a political commentary on GERM in Teacher magazine in which the union’s General Secretary Christine Blower condemns turning pupils into consumers of education and teachers into private sector workers. Standardised testing, performance-related pay and competition between schools are preparing the way for privatisation.  The NUT may have the best intentions of fairness to all and does emphasise, officially, if not in practice, concerns about child poverty. 

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Education Notes: Gove may have gone but the market marches on

New Education Minister Morgan is qualified to oversee privatisation as a corporate lawyer

The replacement of sacked Education Minister Michael Gove with Nicky Morgan, Education Secretary and Minister for women and equalities means more of the same – a constant stream of educational ‘reforms’. The process of transferring state education to the private sector is the real agenda being carried out behind a smokescreen of teaching and learning initiatives. The banking and private equity sectors have been waiting on the sidelines for the opportunity to take over state provision and buy up the education sector. Morgan is well qualified to oversee this buy-out being a corporate lawyer.

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