Much publicity has been given recently to reported Lib Dem disquiet over what Education Secretary Michael Gove has been up to at the Education Department. After four years silent complicity, this is a little rich.
In another development, the TUC has just published an 85 page report entitled Education Not for Sale. It’s presumably unrelated to the Lib Dems concern as they are generally as uninterested in what the TUC has to say as the Tories and Labour. The TUC report concludes that the continuing marketization of education through Gove’s academy and free school programme is moving England’s schools system from democratic, local authority control to a more fragmented, less democratic structure. The TUC report is also concerned that the power to take major decisions over the direction of both individual schools and of the education system as a whole now rests with a few individuals: the Secretary of State and those who own academy chains. As the report observes, free schools were supposed to be locally developed by parents, teachers and community groups, but are now more likely to be handed to academy chains.
The TUC report is notable for the cautious and tentative nature of its conclusions. Yet the Anti-Academy Alliance, the NUT and the Communist Party have all campaigned vigorously against academies since they were introduced by New Labour under cover of the Education, Education, Education mantra.
Democratic control and accountability of state education depended crucially on Local Education Authorities (LEAs). These bodies of experts and administrators provided training, expertise, advice and funding to state schools and were accountable to the electorate through council elections. Their undermining began under New Labour. The Tories under Gove’s direction, and with the supine Lib Dems carried along in their wake, have simply finished off the job.
Comments by Labour candidates in the forthcoming local government elections confirm the impression that they have no appreciation or understanding of the problem their party has helped cause and of what must be done to remedy the situation. The Communist Party solution is to kick the profiteers out of education and return it all to democratic control. We also need to start trusting teachers and stop telling them in minute detail what to teach and how. We should pay them properly, give them job security through a local authority contract and we should tax private education institutions, the so called public schools, until they go out of business. A Land Value Tax and a Wealth Tax on individuals would be most effective in this respect. Finally, we need to provide the incentive to school students of guaranteed financial support when they progress to colleges of further education and universities, not saddle them with student loans. Further and higher education must not become once more the preserve of the rich. We don’t expect anything from the Lib Dems, but, if the TUC won’t speak up for working people in this way, the Communist Party will.