Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/559/6690
Secondary education: PFI's gloss soon peels away
IT'S ALL systems go at the Northampton comprehensive school where I work. The landscaping is being finished off and men in boiler suits haunt the corridors and stairwells.
A school teacher, Northampton
Almost a year after our initial move to a new site, the grand opening is upon us. Staff at any school would be pleased to have the opportunity to swap leaking, ill-appointed classrooms for fantastic new premises. But our smart buildings came at a cost; we became a PFI (private finance initiative) school.
This was sold to us as gaining a new school, state of the art equipment and raising our profile in the community. What most people, including myself, didn't realise is that this results in the buildings being rented by the local authority, with the private contractor calling the shots.
My school is somewhat inaccurately termed a technology college. Sports facilities - including all-weather pitches, pool and gym - provide a way for the company to make a profit. The school is not the local authority's property any longer.
The site staff, including cleaners, are employed by the contractors. The school's standards of cleanliness are pretty poor; in the mornings toilets are still dirty from the previous day despite continuing requests from staff and pupils.
Cleaners often clean the toilets and corridors at break times. If a classroom has an 'unusual' amount of cleaning required, photographs are taken and the school is billed for the extra work.
The more disgusting a classroom looks at the end of the day, the more money they make! My department head, who has been at the school for 30 years, brought her own carpet cleaner to scrub at spilled drink stains to avoid incurring a bill.
After less than six months, paint is peeling and has to be reapplied in preparation for the 'invitation only' grand opening. It's costing around £10,000.
The invitations state that there will be an opera singer, amongst other guests, and a free bar. Students will not be joining the festivities.
Some staff are boycotting the event in protest at the cost and the hypocrisy. A number of staff have heard that the head is to announce, after the 'celebration', that the school is to close, to then be re-opened as an academy.
While our head has not yet told us, the academy down the road has been aware of this for a while, as it's viewed as a sort of takeover. We thought that we had until 2010 before the takeover decision would be made.
We work at a 'national challenge' school; that means we have to turn a 17% A*-C pass rate into 30%+, the government's minimum acceptable achievement, by next summer.
It is an under-subscribed school, always a parent's last choice. Poor results lead to under-subscription and difficulty in recruiting new staff, which leads to poor results.
Education is not a business and students are not statistics. Keep the schools and all related institutions under local authority ownership and control. Pupils and teachers should also have a say in the running of the school.
In The Socialist 3 December 2008:
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