Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/424/4970
What we think
Education white paper:
Blair's 'high wire act' - heading for a fall?
SO FAR nearly one hundred Labour MP's are opposing the Schools White Paper backed by Blair revealing a Prime Minister who is well past his sell-by-date. Guardian journalist Seumas Milne correctly described recent events as "the end game of the Blair era."
Under the bill (due to go to Parliament next month) all schools will be encouraged to become self-governing trusts, sponsored by industry, faith groups and charities. They would control their own admissions.
Two main issues are being cited for the rebellion - that these proposals would increase social segregation while Local Education Authorities (LEAs) would no longer be responsible for admissions. The bill would open up our schools to more privatisation with big business and faith groups running schools, unaccountable to any elected bodies.
Trust schools will seek to select pupils whose needs can be met more easily and who are most likely to boost their status and position in school league tables. Neighbouring schools would be plunged further into difficulties as they lose pupils and the funding that comes with them.
A report by an education charity which had been suppressed by the government concluded that if these proposals are implemented more children from the poorest families will be excluded from top state schools.
Blair has expressed his determination to force the bill through, but he is faced with real problems on how to proceed. He could rely on Tory votes but this could spell the end of Blair. Or he could refuse to make any changes and risk the bill being defeated which would severely diminish his authority. If Blair gives concessions to his opponents this will also weaken him.
But Blair has had a spate of recent problems including the curbing of the internment without trial bill and the Lords voting down compulsory ID cards. Problems around Iraq are also never far away. Having stated that Britain was definitely not involved in 'rendition' flights (flying prisoners to other countries to be tortured) Jack Straw now admits that there may have been requests from the US for use of UK territory or airspace.
The government has been forced to give a figure of the number of British soldiers injured in Iraq as Defence Secretary. John Reid admitted that there have been thousands of casualties, with some of them taking legal action against the Ministry of Defence.
Blair's problems are set to increase both inside, and more importantly, outside parliament. Strike action is looming by local government workers, fire-fighters and other workers in defence of their pensions. NHS protests are spreading around the country.
Some will interpret this rebellion of Labour MPs as the beginning of opposition to neo-liberal policies and the possibility of the party shifting away from the right. It is true that the growing opposition to privatisation and deteriorating public services in society is being reflected to some degree within parliament.
Yet many of the 'rebels' within the Labour Party, such as Neil Kinnock and Estelle Morris, are firmly in the neo-liberal camp. And rebel MPs are likely to accept the Schools Bill with some concessions; knowing this will still lead to more privatisation in education. Even if, as is to be hoped, the bill is scuppered completely, it would not alter the overall trend of the government to destroy public services.
Whatever happens to the bill it will bring Blair's demise closer. Although a new leader could create illusions that the Labour Party might change this would be short-lived. Brown has made it clear that under his leadership the neo-liberal agenda would continue and he is backing Blair on the Schools Bill. Other contenders for the leadership would also support the neo-liberal interests of big business.
All three main parties share the same agenda resulting in more people having no party to vote for. Working-class people who are opposed to privatisation and want business to stay out of our schools and other public services have no political representation. Our campaign for a new mass party of the working class is more urgent than ever.
Parents resist special needs school closures
ON 19 January, 50 angry parents of children with special needs, children and supporters demonstrated outside Liverpool's city council offices. The council was meeting to close three special schools this year and force the children into mainstream education. It wants 360 special needs school places and another 56 resourced places to go by 2014.
The government's own Audit Commission recognises that "one child in 30 needs more support than their school can provide". However, parents are losing the right to choose what's best for their children. Children with the severest disabilities won't have their basic educational needs met and parents have been offered no part in the decision-making process.
The main problems were caused by a council blunder resulting in a shortfall of £250,000 in the Special Schools budget. The schools must find the £250,000 themselves.
If Liverpool council closes all special schools, children will then have to attend mainstream schools. But most mainstream schools are simply not equipped, nor staffed, to provide for all special needs children, such as those with autism, who could find the experience of mainstream traumatic, resulting in some children having no education at all.
Every child deserves to be educated in the way that suits them best. It's time to stop New Labour's destruction of the education system and put the focus on the children at its heart and not simply on saving money.
In The Socialist 26 January 2006: