Education Notes: ‘Our schools are not for sale’ campaign fights back

The local elections in England on 1 May resulted in the first victories for anti-academy campaigners voted onto local councils. Academy schools, we remind our readers, are state-funded private schools.* These hybrid monstrosities were dreamed up from the office of Prime Minister Blair but are the direct result of Gordon Brown’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Academies are being created by taking state schools out of the control of local education authorities and giving them, together with public land, building contracts and employer rights to private companies like Harris Carpets and organisations like the Church of England.

In Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, nine councillors, eight independent and one Liberal Democrat, were elected on an anti-academy platform and now hold the balance of power on the 36-seat district council. The Barrow councillors are opposed to Cumbria Council’s plans to close three of the town’s secondaries and open a new academy in September 2009, sponsored by BAE Systems, two local businessmen, the local sixth form college, FE college and university.


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Education notes: Sats and scores education fails the tests

When the Thatcher/Baker Education Act of 1985 introduced a national reporting system for every school and each child, how we laughed. Socialist teachers and progressive people knew that these tests would expose class as the single most significant influence on a child’s educational attainment. We predicted that the data would show not only ‘outcomes’ – test results – but also ‘inputs’ that is, resources from the state and society as a whole. These include: crowded classrooms, inadequate buildings, a high turnover of teachers, lack of after-school activities, not enough cash for the purchase of books, toys, computers, music, sport and leisure facilities; the list is as long as the middle class can make it for their own children. We also knew that redistribution of resources would not follow from national reports.


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Education Notes: A logo without the lolly is no use

A logo without the lolly is no use
A question is haunting college and school administrators, a question about money – ‘Will our sponsors be ok in the credit crunch? Will our bankers cut off our stream of private funding? Will our private cash cow still give out?’ For not only has the Labour government outsourced most of the infrastructure of state education to the private sector, it has also pressurised schools and colleges to adopt a ‘business-friendly ethos’ in every aspect of educational activity. Today hundreds of charities, schools and community projects in the poorest parts of Britain, but especially in the east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham next to the City, have come to rely heavily on the largesse, the ‘generosity’, of City firms and their employees. Advertising and logos bring commerce straight to the students, everything from the local butcher to British Petroleum and the McDonald’s Work Experience Programme. There is hardly a school fair, performance or sporting event that is not sponsored by businesses in return for free advertising space in the hearts and minds and pockets of pupils, parents and teachers. The flow of cash from the free enterprise friends of education is serious money. The Southwark-based Kids Company received £100,000 worth of support from Lehman Brothers last year. Gone, all gone with the wind.


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Education notes: Limits of privatisation

The great custard well
The 1944 Education Act set up a Ministry of Education as part of the new welfare state after the Second World War. This Act established local education authorities financed from both national and local taxation. The first and largest of these was the London County Council (later the Greater London Council), and teachers used to joke that under County Hall there was a deep well from which came the custard for school dinners, the paint for school walls and the glue for school work. The point of the joke was that the local authority was the custodian of all the resources necessary to run an education system including school buildings, school transport, acres of land and playing fields. It was also the employer of thousands of teachers, office staff, examiners, dinner ladies, accountants, decorators, caretakers, construction workers and maintenance and cleaning teams. Local education officers organised the bulk purchase of stationery and the provision of school dinners, and oversaw teacher training.


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EDUCATION NOTES: Poverty is no excuse – again

In 1999, two years into the Labour government, Education Minister David Blunkett threatened schools with closure if exam results did not improve. He said, ‘There are cynics out there who say that school performance is all about socio-economics and the areas that these schools are located in’, but ‘poverty is no excuse for secondary schools failing to achieve ambitious new government targets to raise the GCSE pass rate’. Ten years on and with the annual publication of the schools league tables, the current Education Minister Ed Balls says the same again, ‘Schools should stop blaming poverty for bad exam results’, and he attacks what he calls the ‘excuses culture that persists in many communities’.


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Education for the middle class

britain education tony blair

There are two fundamental divisions within the British education system: the first between public and the state schools, and the second between state schools in middle class areas and those in working class areas. These divisions ensure that only the middle class has access to anything like a reasonable education. For the working class, state education under capitalism serves to provide only the most basic training on the one hand, whilst enforcing social discipline and control on the other. Under the Tories, the price of middle class education has been paid by deteriorating standards for the mass of the working class. The National Curriculum serves to maintain control of teachers whilst national tests are used to strengthen the hierarchy between schools.

However, Tory policies have proved a failure. National educational targets for the year 2000 are not going to be met. Only 54 per cent of 19 year olds have five ‘good’ GCSEs compared to the target of 85 per cent, whilst 45 per cent of 21 year olds have NVQ level 3, Advanced GNVQ or two ‘A’ Levels, well short of the target of 70 per cent.


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