Academies and Free Schools: the cracks begin to show

The Guardian reported today (18 July) a leaked draft report commissioned by Gove before he was sacked as Education Secretary into the alleged infiltration of Birmingham schools by extremists. The draft report was confirmed as apparently genuine by the BBC. It is written by a former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism command, Peter Clarke, and predictably finds a “coordinated, deliberate and sustained action” to introduce an “intolerant Islamist ethos” into the schools. Perhaps little else could have been expected given Clarke’s expertise and perspective, but, displaying an unexpected objectivity, he calls on the Department of Education to “review the process by which schools are able to convert to academy status” and comments that “in theory academies are accountable to the Secretary of State, but in practice the accountability can almost amount to benign neglect”.

Whether these comments are removed from the final version remains to be seen. Presumably whoever leaked the draft feared that they might be excised by Gove or his successor. If, however, even a counter-terrorism policeman can conclude that academies are unfit for purpose, perhaps the penny will eventually drop with the Labour Party.

Meanwhile, in a further serendipitous link between the Metropolitan Police and the Department of Education, we learnt this week that South Norwood police station will be gifted to a new ‘free’ school in Croydon – a form of school also responsible to the Secretary of State for Education but under even less control than are academies. Labour policy on free schools is to retain them and call them “parent-led academies”. If this is intended to reassure us, it has failed!

The key to improving education is to get Westminster politicians of both major parties to end their continuous, we-know-better-than-the- professionals meddling and sucking up to business interests keen to leech on public money. What’s needed is a statutory framework for comprehensive education and restoration of democratic, local authority control, managed by Local Education Authorities (LEAs) staffed by teachers and other appropriate professionals. Oh, and as a forthcoming report by the Communist Party will recommend, let’s end charitable status for public schools and charge VAT on school fees!

Martin Graham

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BRITISH VALUES

Following Ofsted investigation into Birmingham schools and the resulting undignified spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May, David Cameron was forced to intervene and explain what Gove meant by the “British Values” he wants to see taught in English and Welsh state funded schools. Apparently these “British Values” are freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions.

This list is loaded with class implications and is worth picking apart. Taking them in order:

Freedom – a term always banded about by those on the right but never properly defined by them. They mean, of course, freedom for those with wealth and power to enjoy these with as few constraints as possible.

Tolerance – this means a relaxed view to the views of others provided they don’t impact on those with wealth and power. Ownership and control by the rich and powerful of the mass media does, of course, ensure that really dangerous views such as socialism can be not so much tolerated as safely ignored.

Respect for the Rule of Law – this means rigorously enforcing those laws that protect property and generally disregarding those laws which protect the rights of ordinary working people. To ensure this, the judiciary is drawn from the powerful and wealthy sections of society and can be relied on to protect their class’s interests.

Belief in personal and social responsibility – this means that ordinary working people should not anyway expect “rights” under the law. They must take personal responsibility for their own welfare, just like the rich and powerful do.

Respect for British institutions – this means we should not criticise or question those institutions that prop up the ruling class – the police, parliament, the army, royals etc. Such unquestioning respect need not, however, apply to those institutions that actually serve ordinary working people such as the NHS, our trade unions and those schools that have not yet been sold off to business interests.

It is quite easy to think of a more wholesome set of values. The list could include solidarity with fellow workers, opposition to sexism and racism and treating other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. The problem with these from a Tory perspective is that they are not exclusively “British”. How strange then that Cameroon and his Tory chums appear to have overlooked that it would only take one more clumsy intervention from them in the debate in Scotland on independence and the term “British” will become an historic relic.

Martin Graham

EDUCATION NOT FOR SALE?

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.

Martin Graham