Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/193/8102
What we think
Education - Labour's Year Zero
NEW LABOUR'S plans for a second term, outlined last week, focus primarily on education. These were so outrageously right wing that the Tories' education spokesperson, Teresa May, said indignantly that Labour had adopted Tory education rhetoric.
But Labour's new plans are the ones the Tories never dared raise - not even as rhetoric. Behind Blair's talk of "bog-standard" comprehensives and university access for all, lurks an agenda to allow access for big business to sink its predatory teeth into education.
Blair's government hasn't delivered its first-term promises on education or health and have desperately abandoned many of their failed initiatives - like the Fresh Start for schools. Now, New Labour adopts a Year Zero approach to education through nothing less than the wholesale destruction of universal, free education for all.
Their plans will see selection reintroduced, more religious-based schools and a massive expansion of private provision in primary, secondary and higher education. All amount to a massive boost for a privileged education for a small elite.
Ironically, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education also said last week that top-up student fees will not be introduced in the next parliament. But higher education's experience is a pointer to what will happen in secondary and primary schools if Labour's plans are implemented.
Since New Labour introduced tuition fees and abolished the grant, thousands more young people have been unable to afford the costs of university.
Labour's latest proposals are a lot less impressive than they first appear. On the promise of bursaries of £2,000 for 25,000 students; take away the spin and it's evident that new Labour mean £2,000 over three years. It's nothing compared to the average £18,000 students spend to survive a three-year degree course, before even paying fees. Furthermore, only a tiny fraction of students will receive any of the promised money.
New Labour also promise a real-term funding increase of 5% per student. This sounds familiar, remember Labour's pledge to increase health spending by that amount.
A new report from the independent King's Fund says Labour would need to increase health spending by £18 billion a year to achieve their target - something they show no sign of doing.
Even if the government did increase funding per student by 5%, it is a drop in the ocean when viewed against the scale of the cuts successive Tory and New Labour governments made in funding.
From 1976 to 1996 there was a 40% fall in funding per student. New Labour have since been responsible for decreasing funding on a year-on-year basis per student since 1997 and it has fallen by 2.5% since 1998.
And, for the last two years they have included the money universities received from students' fees as government funding when calculating university funding.
The government's plans will do nothing to alleviate the poverty of thousands of students. So, how will more young people be convinced to enter university?
Even if they did, the net result would be a massive increase in overcrowding and stretching of already scarce resources and facilities.
New Labour is still under massive pressure from vice-chancellors of the elite universities to introduce top-up fees. Whether in the form of top-up fees or increased tuition fees, the next government will almost certainly attempt further attacks on higher education and students.
It will also face a serious recession, which will dash Labour's very limited proposed spending plans on education and health if they win a second term.
This will mean a worsening nightmare for working-class people. As these new proposals show, working-class people need a mass political alternative to the two 'Tory' parties. The Socialist Party will be to the fore in advancing a new mass party of the working class.
But, immediately organised resistance, through unions and mass campaigns of teachers, parents and students is needed to stop Labour's plans in their tracks.
In The Socialist 16 February 2001: