Archive article from The Socialist Issue 437
Good quality schools for all, not just the few
EDUCATION IS always a vital political issue, especially at times of local council elections. But now, with New Labour introducing its Education and Inspections Bill pupils, parents and teachers all face chaos as Blair and Co. aim to overturn the comprehensive education system.
They also want to let the 'free market' and big business take over much of the education system, wrestle all control of schools away from local authorities and give much of the more money-spinning sections over directly to big business and religious organisations.
There are no educational arguments for the government's bill. But Blair has shown how much emphasis his government put on their education 'reforms' by the sleaze stories that appeared in the media recently.
The government relies on the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) to 'woo' potential big business backers for Blair's favoured City Academies. Des Smith, then an adviser to SSAT is alleged to have promised a reporter that a peerage was "a certainty" if he donated £10 million. Some wooing!
Labour's chief fundraiser Lord Levy is also president of SSAT. Schools minister Andrew Adonis, a 'prime mover' in both academies and top-up fees for universities, once saw titles as "feudal relics." He is now Baron Adonis and implicated in the sleazy story.
Most parents, school students and teachers just want to ensure a good quality education to all, not just a privileged few.
DAVID KAPLAN (Haringey National Union of Teachers) and MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES (Lewisham National Union of Teachers) look at how teachers, parents and school students can beat Blair's government, his sleazy machine and his education bill.
Fight divisive Education Bill
WHEN PARLIAMENT voted recently on the Education and Inspections Bill, New Labour showed how determined it is to push ahead with plans to privatise and fragment public education.
Blair's aim to dismantle the comprehensive system provoked unrest on the Labour backbenches. So Blair's education secretary Ruth Kelly made 'concessions' and significantly reduced the number of Labour 'rebels.' However, the White Paper's fundamental provisions remain.
Kelly's letter to the Labour 'rebels' showed how little she had conceded: "I remain committed to all the freedoms for foundation and trust schools that we set out in the White Paper - schools owning and controlling their own buildings, employing their own staff and setting their admissions arrangements."
Business and faith groups will be encouraged to take over and run Foundation schools. The trusts will be not-for-profit organisations that will develop a particular specialism and ethos for their schools. The trusts look just like academies.
Kelly said: "We are already finding considerable interest from potential trust supporters". A number of corporations and organisations are waiting for their opportunity to market their particular brand of education, free from democratic control. What clearer message could there be about who New Labour now represents?
New Labour's 'neo-liberal' ideology sees free-market competition as the future for local services, including transport, health and now education. The Education Bill will allow a deregulated 'market' of independent state-funded schools to compete for pupils in order to boost their status and position in the school league tables.
It is predicted that 'good' schools will be able to expand at the expense of their neighbours. The result will be even greater polarisation - working-class families will be the losers.
NEW LABOUR is not interested in educational equality for all. At best they want to provide some limited access to the lucky few who climb up the educational ladder. The government sees diversity as a way of providing education. The main drive behind the Bill is to make the best state schools attractive to middle-class students.
Kelly's predecessor, Charles Clarke, explained in 2004 the rationale behind the Bill: "There is a significant chunk of them [middle-class parents] who go private because they feel despairing about the quality of education. They are the people we are after."
Trying to placate the fears of New Labour councillors and officials concerned about their future careers, Kelly stresses a continuing role for local authorities. But their chief task will now simply be to service the education 'market' rather than to plan and control local education. Councils are still seen as "a commissioner, rather than provider, of schools."
Opposition to the Education and Inspections Bill requires an alternative vision. Socialist Party members fight for a massive programme of spending in schools and school buildings - implementing the National Union of Teachers' limits on class size and aiming for a maximum class size of 20 across the board.
As well as opposing trusts and foundation schools, we would abolish the public school system - bringing all schools under local democratic control. We would want schools that are local to local communities - they should be democratically controlled and managed by governing bodies and Local Education Authorities made up from school staff and unions, students, parents and members of the local community.
SOME LOCAL campaigns have already developed links with parents and school students and beaten plans to set up Academies - this shows what can be achieved.
However, local action will only be able to hold back the tide of privatisation and marketisation for a limited time. To really turn things around, a mass national campaign must be fought.
In their recent determined action against the government's threat to introduce a new law removing young workers' employment rights, French school students and trade unionists were showing what such a campaign could look like. Opposition to the Education Bill has not reached general strike proportions in England as yet, but the power of organised trade unionists will form a vital component here as well.
The teachers' union NUT should link up with other unions ready to organise action against the attacks on public services. The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) helped initiate the cross-union "Public Services Not Private Profit" Campaign which already has the support of other major unions such as the NUT.
Launching the campaign, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said he was fed up with "winning the argument against privatisation and then it happening anyway". There is no educational argument for the Education Bill either. But it too will happen anyway, unless we act.
Mark raised the idea of a mass rally and demonstration in London followed by a national day of industrial action if the government doesn't retreat on the privatisation threats facing public sector unions.
The unions in education should now be developing this kind of initiative with other unions to build and broaden the campaign against the Education Bill.
The Socialist Party says
Cut class sizes!
GORDON BROWN announced in his March budget that he plans to increase the spending on individual pupils in state schools to the level of private schools. At present the shortfall is over £3,000 per child! Brown says this money should be used in part to reduce class sizes in order to raise standards in schools.
Nicky Downes Coventry NUT
The Labour government previously argued that class sizes had little effect on achievement - particularly when arguing to close schools with falling rolls! However, Gordon Brown did not commit anywhere near enough money for this in this year's budget and without hard cash such promises are worthless.
According to the OECD (representing the 'first world' countries), this government's spending on education remains well below the average for developed countries. The pupil-teacher ratio lags behind all other OECD countries except the Czech Republic, Mexico, Korea and Turkey.
Despite all the claims about increased spending in schools, the average UK state school primary class now has 26.8 pupils, compared to an OECD average of just 22.1. Of the major developed countries, only Korea and Japan have bigger classes in both primary and secondary schools.
Although New Labour invests more money in education than the Tories, most of this money has been wasted on Academies, PFI projects, OFSTED inspections, private consultants and private management of schools.
The majority of government funding mentioned in the budget was £34 billion for capital spending over the next five years, i.e. for school buildings and equipment. None of this will impact on student achievement as much as reducing class size.
Most students are currently taught in classes of 28 or 30. Teachers are expected to target set for individual pupils and ensure that differentiation meets each child's needs. No teachers would disagree with this, but the smaller the class the easier this will be managed. Research on class size and achievement shows that the most successful classes are those with less than 20 students.
We need a fundamental change in government policy away from privatisation and towards substantial investment in comprehensive and community education. But the establishment parties, wedded to big business interests, won't make that change.
A new workers' party must demand that the enormous wealth of the billionaires and multinationals be harnessed to genuinely give ordinary families the same educational opportunities offered to those who can pay for a private education.
Only then can class sizes be reduced, allowing teachers to try to meet the educational and emotional needs of all the children in their class.
Local campaigns resist Blair's academies
BLAIR (AND Cameron) may have got the Education Bill through Parliament but battles are already being fought in many areas where trade unions and local communities are opposing the existing Academies programme.
This scheme (with less than convincing results!) has been a testing ground for Blair's vision of letting millionaires and private-sector companies run schools, paid for by taxpayers but outside local authority control.
Working-class families lose out
BIRMINGHAM CITY Council wants seven academies or 'schools with academy-like features' to replace seven existing secondary schools. The plans are based on the false notion that closing a school and reopening it as an Academy will improve education - for which there is no evidence.
Working-class pupils will lose out. 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 outside 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.
Academies 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 for education staff.
Doncaster parents revolt
IN THORNE, near Doncaster, Blair's government gave £20 million to multi-millionaire evangelist Peter Vardy's Emmanuel School Foundation to take over secondary education. They built a state of the art school but insisted on no interference from the education authority.
Trinity Academy opened in September but some parents have already called a 300-strong public protest meeting at the strict discipline. Children got detentions for such things as wearing a 'regulation' black bobble in their hair but 'too loose', for being in the wrong corridor (it's a massive school) and for going to the toilet in a study period (this is in the sixth form!).
Parents waved bundles of detention reports that their children had received in the past four months. Some pupils who had never been in detention before were now getting at least one a week.
Parents tried to discuss things with the school but no-one gets back to them. They contacted the education authority for help, only to be told it's nothing to do with them now. The meeting overwhelmingly decided to campaign to stop the bullying and intimidation that their children are subjected to.
The headmaster commented: "if the parents don't like it, they can take me on." Parents intend to!
Merton versus the millionaires
MERTON'S NEW Labour council are trying to turn two newly modernised schools in this south London borough into academies. The Campaign against Academies in Merton (CAAM) is concerned that Mitcham Vale school will become a Church of England school sponsored by the Diocese of Southwark Board of Education.
This Board already controls two other C of E secondary schools in South London and of course they have an Anglican 'ethos'. Ramsey College in Southwark states in its admissions policy: "Priority is given to children whose parents are committed members of, and worship regularly at an Anglican Church.
"Applicants are required to fill in a Religious verification form which must be signed by the church vicar".
Our own schools in Merton impose no such restrictions. Lord Harris, millionaire owner of the vast Carpetright chain, will be sponsor for Tamworth Manor School. He is in the top 200 of the Sunday Times rich list and was made a Lord by John Major.
Lord Harris met us when we picketed one of his shops and he admitted helping to fund David Cameron's leadership bid. Tamworth Manor would become his fourth Academy in South London. We believe that no one individual, especially a politician, should control the ethos of four large secondary schools.
Coventry - stop the 'tragedy'
IN COVENTRY, the potential sponsor of a proposed Academies has just announced he donated £2 million to the Tories. Coventry National Union of Teachers branch called for Coventry's Chief Executive to investigate potential breeches of the Code of Conduct for Elected members if the Conservatives vote at the full council on the final decision about this Academy.
Even the local press, commenting on plans for an Academy to be sponsored by a Christian fundamental businessman, said:
"How tragic that there is no money available for new school buildings in Coventry - not unless a businessman decides to take one over. Then, miraculously, £25 million becomes available. And in return for a relatively paltry £2 million, the businessman gets to inculcate generations of young people with his ideas, however batty.
"Bob Edmiston, the millionaire who wants to turn Woodway Park School into a city academy... admits he has little background in education [but] the government is giving him the chance to run one of our schools.
"His cash will give him control over the appointment of the head and the school governors. And his ideas will influence what is taught.
"If the academy goes ahead, let's hope, for the sake of the pupils and their parents, that he exercises his control wisely. And if he doesn't? That really would be tragic".
Stop the 'tragedy' - fight the Academies!
Fork-tongued Liberals' schools plan scuppered?
"I'M SO disappointed that the Liberals are doing this. I voted for them last time but I'll never vote for them again." This reaction from a woman signing a petition against school closures, was repeated again and again as the shock of the Liberals' attack on education in Cardiff sank in.
Cardiff's Liberals posed as a left alternative to the Blairite Labour council before them. But now they are in power they have actually increased the cutbacks, especially in education. 22 local schools are to be axed across the city and 600 jobs lost, 300 of them teachers.
They said Cardiff was "wasting" £3 million a year keeping these schools open and that education wouldn't be harmed. But if the council sacks hundreds of teachers and teaching assistants then the pupil/ teacher ratio will inevitably rise to the detriment of the city's education.
And for a party that pretends to be "greener" than Labour or Tory the school closures' effect on Cardiff's environment will be significant as school buses and parents cars criss-cross the city every morning and tea time transporting children and school students to and from school, miles more than before.
What's more, cycle lanes on the roads are due to close to make way for a privatised parking meter and traffic warden system. And bus fares have gone up 20% in two years. Welcome to Liberal Cardiff!
Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather says falling pupil numbers "could be a golden opportunity to reduce class sizes." Meanwhile, Cardiff Liberals who are actually in power on the council say falling school rolls mean that money is being wasted on smaller classes.
The Liberals speak with forked tongue - one for when in opposition and another when they get their hands on the levers of power.
lSTOP PRESS. As we go to press it appears that under pressure from the anti-school cuts campaign, all the opposition parties will be voting against. This includes Labour who, shamefully, supported the closure plan.
So the Liberals' closure plan will probably now be scuppered. But they will undoubtedly try to come back with a new plan in the future so the campaign will continue.
TEACHERS' UNIONS and education campaigners have been warning of the dangers of the government's City Academies for some time.
But a new report from a pro-big business charity that advises wealthy donors what 'good causes' they should support warns businesses that giving up to £2 million to academies was 'poor value for money'.
New Philanthropy Capital says re-creating so-called failing schools as academies was not effective. "Academies show mixed results for their pupils. But there is enough evidence to raise doubts about their cost-effectiveness."
They point out that buildings at a conventional, non-academy school cost £16-17 million while the average academy costs £25 million. The £8 million discrepancy could pay the wages of 276 experienced teachers for a year.
Anti-academy campaigners should step up their activities to put another nail in the coffin of Blair's divisive scheme.
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