At the branch meeting last night (17 March) Croydon Communist Party condemned the Education White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere published earlier that day. In the view of the meeting the White Paper heralded the end of local democratic control of education – indeed essentially the end of any democratic control over education as every state school is to be handed over to unaccountable multi-academy trusts (MATs) by 2020. Parent governors are to be abolished and the land owned by local authorities surrendered to the Secretary of State so that it can be leased to MATs. The White Paper offered no changes to the way in which MATs are to be regulated and to the level of fees and salaries they can extract from public funds.
The role of local authorities in education is to be confined to three areas:
- Ensuring every child has a school place
- Ensuring the needs of vulnerable pupils are met
- Acting as champions for all parents and families
The first duty is to be discharged by enabling so called free schools to open – but quite how local authorities can do this is unclear. Also unclear is how the other two duties can be discharged in the absence of any influence or power over MATs.
While the objective of the White Paper was clear enough, the meeting identified a number of contradictions indicating confused thinking at the Department of Education and in the mind of its Minister, Nicky Morgan. While proclaiming that it was not for the government to impose teaching methods (apparently reversing twenty years of politicians telling teachers how to teach), the highly questionable phonics method of teaching reading was endorsed. Similarly, on the contentious issue of religion in education, the government commits itself in the White Paper to work with the Churches and “relevant faith bodies”, whatever they are, to ensure that the religious character and ethos of Church and faith schools is protected. Thus for both curriculum and staffing academies will be allowed to “innovate”, i.e. employ priests to the exclusion of others and promulgate such views as creationism, without central interference.
There was only one reference to teaching unions in the White Paper: they are asked to work with others to identify and challenge the “culture” in and beyond schools which leads to “unnecessary workload”. It is not “culture” that led to unnecessary workload, it was government imposition of Ofsted and the National Curriculum. The role of teaching unions was not mentioned elsewhere in the White Paper, but here can be little doubt that a major objective of the paper is to break the influence of teachers’ unions in education. The meeting gave them every encouragement and support to resist the White Paper and committed the branch to do likewise.