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

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