The Socialist 7 September 2011
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Tory bribes to promote socially divisive 'Free Schools' agenda
Students in England and Wales returned to school this week. If Tory education secretary Michael Gove could give one piece of advice to them what would it be?
He may warn; 'careful what notes you pass in class because you never know where they might end up.' He learnt this lesson when emails from Whitehall were revealed showing the lengths the Tories have gone to, to ensure their 'Free School' agenda has been taken up.
The emails to the 'New Schools Network' - a charity run by a number of former Conservative Party employees who have actively supported the setting up of Free Schools - show Gove's department fast-tracked £500,000 to the charity to allow new Free Schools to open this term.
24 new Free Schools have opened, they receive state funds but are under the control of unelected and unaccountable faith organisations, groups of parents or entrepreneurs. There are also plans for a Free School entirely staffed by former soldiers.
Gove even wanted these "free" schools to be able to generate profits but these Tory plans have been temporarily shelved, as their Lib Dem coalition partners feel the heat.
The opening of these schools is a key milestone in the Tories' drive to take more schools out of local authority control and further erode comprehensive education.
Even a Tory councillor in Birmingham described Free Schools as potentially 'socially divisive' and more details have emerged, including that the 24 don't have to adhere to locally negotiated class sizes.
London's first Free School, the Aldborough E-ACT primary school in Redbridge, will have a ten-hour day boasting that it "will not adhere to national conditions of service for teachers".
There is a critical shortage of primary school places which the government is using as justification for Free Schools. However their policies will just pass the problems on and compound them rather than providing a solution.
Only an education system based on democratic control and accountability can solve the crisis. Additional resources are also needed but schools around the country face massive cuts to their budgets.
The Con-Dems also want to 'de-skill' the teaching profession, allowing Free Schools to employ unqualified teaching staff while they cut teacher training. Will this really build a modern, dynamic education system for the nation's young or one primed for business to make money from our public services?
What is clear from the leaked emails is we can't trust the government to listen to the concerns of the majority of teachers, their unions, parents or pupils. Instead we must organise to fight for an education system based on students and their communities' needs, not those of the private sector.
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