Archive article from The Socialist Issue 429
Education under attack
NEW LABOUR'S Education White Paper is getting its second reading in Parliament. It is a clear sign of the government's intent to privatise and fragment education.
Moreover, as these reports show, many local education authorities and the private sector are already trying other measures to take apart a comprehensive education system that had been an historic gain for working-class people. Education has been undermined and underfunded for many years. Parents and teachers must unite to defeat all these plans to dismantle comprehensive education.
Birmingham: No to academies
WE ARE printing below an article by National Union of Teachers (NUT) members in Birmingham, responding to Birmingham City Council's proposal that seven academies or 'schools with academy-like features' should replace seven existing secondary schools.
THE ACADEMIES will be run by private sponsors who put up £2 million for which they get control of the school and its assets. They will still get public money to build and run the school. The sponsors will not be accountable to the community in the area or parents at the school. The role of democratically-elected representatives will be diminished.
Academies are based on the unproven notion that closing a school and re-opening it as an Academy will improve education - there is no evidence of this.
In 2004, of the eleven existing academies, six had improved GCSE results, five had not and one failed an Ofsted inspection. Newly published league tables show that half the 14 academies with GCSE pupils last summer were in the bottom 200 of England's 3,100 state registered schools.
Private sponsors wanting to run academies don't have to have experience in education. Teachers in Academies didn't even have to be registered with the General Teaching Council until the government was forced to alter the regulations in 2005. This shows the separate way the government sees academies running.
Teachers lose out. When a school becomes an academy, the salaries and conditions of service of employees already working there are protected under the 'Transfer of Undertakings' proceedings (TUPE) but this lasts for a limited period only. New employees can be hired under different conditions of service and salary level.
Once a school becomes an academy elected members of the governing body lose all control and private sponsors are allowed to appoint most governors. No laws control the composition of governing bodies for Academies.
The sponsors appoint the governors. The Times Educational Supplement's investigation of academies' accounts highlighted the influence that sponsors may have over governing bodies and over schools' spending of their funding. Many areas once overseen by governing bodies, such as funding, are now carried out centrally by sponsors to whom funds are diverted.
Working-class pupils lose out too. Academies can select up to 10% of their intake of pupils. They set their own priorities for selection and could refuse places to the children in the school catchment area. In some cases there may be other 'back-door' means of selection. Young people from the area could be rejected and forced to look for schools out of the area.
Public investment in "independent" academies is not using money for the good of the community. Each place at an academy costs an estimated £21,000 compared to £14,000 at a comprehensive. It makes no sense to use public money to set up independent schools in Birmingham, when the local authority has already drawn up and costed plans for rebuilding our schools.
The NUT opposes academies because they are privatisation by the back door, where public funds are given to private hands with no public accountability. They allow selection and a two-tier system of education and are the thin end of a wedge to undermine national conditions of service agreements.
No to selection by religion
RECENTLY FIVE head teachers from Kent wrote to The Independent to suggest the Labour government should include abolishing this county's grammar schools in its education 'reforms'.
Julian Wilson, Tonbridge
Socialists should agree with this, but most of the five schools concerned were themselves selective, not on the principle of the '11-plus' exam, but on the Old Testament view that the 'sins of the fathers should be visited unto the sons'.
Only those from families of the 'correct' religion, with a note from their priest or vicar saying they're frequent church attenders, are admitted!
In Tunbridge Wells, the vast majority of students at the two Catholic 'non-selective' secondary schools (their heads among the five that signed the letter) gain at least five GCSEs, in contrast to a comprehensive in the same town where about a quarter achieve the same.
Gaining employment, let alone access to further and higher education, is therefore far harder for those from non-religious backgrounds.
New Labour looks set to increase the number of schools where selection on the basis of religion is used to determine applications.
Most City Academies are backed by religious groups (some more crudely than others, such as Vardy's Creationist academies).
The school of Blair's own offspring, the London Oratory School, has been given specific and unique permission for this system of choosing pupils by the Minister for Education, Ruth Kelly, a member of the Catholic Opus Dei.
Manchester: A pecking order for schools
AN ANNOUNCEMENT by a Manchester school reveals a new threat to the education of working-class children. Taking advantage of government plans to increase the number of 'academies', Hulme Grammar School in Manchester have announced plans to become a state-funded academy by September 2007.
Parents currently paying £7,000 a year to send their children there will no longer have to pay fees. The school will expand its pupil numbers until it is double its present size.
So, more children will enjoy the 16-acre grounds and the outdoor education centre in Yorkshire. But which children? If Hulme Grammar School's wonderful facilities and small class sizes were to be absorbed into an education service aiming to meet the needs of all children in south Manchester, then it would be hard to object to the plans.
But Hulme Grammar will enter a marketplace with a clear packing order for schools. It is likely that their private grammar school past will ensure they have first pick of the available pupils, based on paper predictions of how easy it will be for the school to get them good examination results.
Other south Manchester schools will privately be aghast at the potential impact on their ability to cream off the easier-to-teach pupils. And teachers in schools that currently end up teaching those pupils that can't get into other schools or who have recently moved to the area, will be thinking 'Same old, same old.'
This development presents working-class parents with the remote possibility of getting their children into a good school coupled with the likelihood of having to send them to a school which teaches an unfair proportion of difficult-to-teach children. It is a game where poorer families are given an educational raffle ticket while richer parents can continue to buy the guarantee of a good education.
The school system delivering Europe's best education is that in Finland, based on comprehensive schools and small class sizes. Only Blair's ideological commitment to capitalism prevents him from imitating the Finnish model.
Instead of putting in the investment into small class sizes that would truly lift standards for all school children, he remains committed to increasing the inequality in Britain's school system in order to open up opportunities for the private sector.
This commitment will lead to an increase in school closures. Socialists can expect to get involved in more local campaigns to keep community schools open in the near future.