The infamous budget speech from George Osborne has not left the news headlines since its delivery weeks ago. “Austerity” was a term dreamed up to blind people from the reality of Tory policy which was avowedly to shrink the state. Local accountability has certainly shrunk with nowhere to go to question those now running our precious and hard won services.
Education has been overshadowed by proper concerns over what is going on in health, with threats there of increasing privatisation which, with TTIP proposals, could end up with multinational concerns running NHS services. In Birmingham Perry Beeches School was held up as an example of the brave new world, its head teacher, Liam Nolan, elevated to the position of “super-head”. Perry Beeches attempted to produce clones across Birmingham with “Perry Beeches II, III and now V”. “Super-head” has now become a bit big for his boots. Although he has for now retained his position of Head Teacher, his designation of CEO and Accounting Officer of a Trust set up to run the whole empire has been withdrawn, his second six-figure income having drawn fire. The Trust has been paid well over a million pounds annually, with Mr Nolan protesting that £200,000 was too little to reward his brilliance.
Like health and other public services essential to our well being, education is not served by being forced into a market place which discriminates between the well-off and the majority who live from their labour and ability to get employment. Speeches as the National Union of Teachers and NAS/UWT Conferences this Easter serve to show how Tories are now being challenged with a national protest on 16th April and teachers supporting junior doctors with strike action. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, was well supported at the NUT Conference in Brighton while Education Secretary Nicky Morgan had a torrid time in Birmingham speaking to NAS/UWT delegates. Her assertion at the outset that there would be no u-turns in her proposals looks particularly vulnerable in the light of Osborne’s back tracking on benefits following his budget announcement.
Extract from Nicky Morgan’s speech.
What does Nicky Morgan know about education, or anything else come to that? Her abysmal performance on a recent Any Questions showed her floundering about her own Chancellor’s budget proposals to attack the most vulnerable. Two news stories today ask what qualifies her to foist inappropriate testing on our children and press ahead with her “irreversible” decision to force all schools into becoming Academies.
It has long been blatantly obvious what the Tories were about with education giving all assets away to private ownership, putting it in the hands of many who, like Nicky Morgan, understand little about education or children and how they learn. The 11 plus test used to brand children as failures with living with that idea into adulthood. Now Morgan proposes what teachers are saying is totally inappropriate testing at 7 as well as 11. They believe many adults would have difficulty in understanding the questions children will be expected to answer. In many countries formal education begins at 7 and children have happier experiences of learning through play. In UK private tutors are converting their homes into school rooms to coach the young of pushy parents demanding their children perform to order. How damaging this is to the many is about to be proved once again.
Why it has taken so long to hear the assertion that Tory policy on education is asset stripping is puzzling, except the last Labour Government also promoted Academies. At last Jeremy Corbyn Labour Leader, has said it at the NUT Conference. Nicky Morgan is due to speak at the the NAS/UWT Conference. She should meet with an appropriately hostile reception. Hopefully they will have read the DFE’s own figures on the performance of the the academy chains which are very clear that the Government’s assertion that they will improve schools is utter rubbish. It leaves us in no doubt at all that the Tories’ plans for schools, as with other privatisations, is purely ideologically based as more and more tax payers’ finances are handed to organisations with no mandate or accountability. Typically those at the head of the underperforming chains are paying themselves telephone number salaries. Their schools are allowed to employ unqualified staff and worsen the working conditions of teachers. Morgan is dismissing the parent governors, once welcomed unpaid into schools to carry out very difficult tasks. Now rubbished she wants them replaced by the “experts”, presumably those engaged in foisting proposals as stupid and uncomprehending as hers on our invaluable education system. Indeed what does Nicky Morgan, and many other politicians including Labour imitators know about education?
Socialist Labour Party Policies for Education.
“There was an old man called Michael Finnagen, he grew whiskers on his chinnagen, the wind came up and blew them inagen. Poor old Michael Finnagen. Beginagen.”
Education (and other) policies seem an eternal “beginagen” routines when it is announced that “children must learn literacy and numeracy”. The obvious question is why there such large numbers who haven’t achieved after years of schooling when those like Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw, self appointed know-it-alls, have been left in charge. Now Nicky Morgan, supposedly Gove’s successor, wants kids to know the 12 times table, it is reported. Why the 12 time table? Are we about to go back to pounds, shillings and pence?
How is it that education is equated with rote learning of specific items, apparently picked out of the air by those with no educational training. Of course this has nothing to do with education, it’s just another panic measure trotted out after another spate of bad publicity. Supposedly it is to tell the Sun and Daily Mail reader that what they are thought to regard as education is also a concern to, in this case, the Tories. (Since a number of the guys have been “educated” at Eton just what are they talking about? What exactly is it they think that the masses need?
It doesn’t look like something to do with being able to think for themselves. (Is that what Eton et al are about?) The problem is that whenever someone else takes over education we seem to go back to the beginning or basics so nothing seemingly progresses. “Education” starts earlier and earlier in the UK – whereas elsewhere in the developed world children might start formal learning at 7. When, they ask, will children learn to play? In Britain play isn’t popularly seen to be learning. Stress laden classes must begin as soon as possible after leaving the womb. Counterproductive? Well the experiments with the private sector leading hasn’t been exactly promising with academies and free schools showing no advance over state run schools. In process accountability has been lost and this year even the league tables have fallen apart so no one has a clue how schools are performing, even in the narrow world the UK education is being made by the ignorant and privatisation-driven political elite.
A report on academies has shown that Heads of academies are agreeing considerable sums to be paid to their own sponsors, trustees and friends for contracts such as training.
As we have seen over and over the relentless privatisation of public services ends up in tears: those of us, the public, whose money has been passed over to the privatisers benefitting the directors and share holders, and the users: school children and their families. What can we do about it? Not much since control of schools has passed to national government as local government is starved of resources and power.
In 1993 Vital Link Educational Limited was formed. It’s first publication was called “Invisible Victorians”. It asked the question why were a group, sometimes referred to as “a visible minority”, be invisible in history. Of course this refers to the many, notably women, who have been grossly overlooked in successive patriarchal societies that have defined what recorded history should include or leave out. As Winston Churchlll famously said “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
An exhibition in London explores that dimension of Victorian Britain members of Vital Link and others have from time to time uncovered.
Once upon a time when we lived in a fairly civilised society we had a wooden hut which served as changing facilities for a range of sporting activities. The hut was available to us in the community, With Ernie in charge it was made available when needed. From 1990 onwards the ward changed from being represented by Tory councillors it transformed in three years to having three Labour councillors with the largest majority in Birmingham. After elections we would return to Laurel Road to tune into the election results late into the night.
One day came the news of a fire. Our precious centre had burned down due to an electrical fault in a drinks machine. What would happen to the site. We wrote letters to Pepsi-cola, or whoever owned the drinks dispenser to see if they would help sponsor a rebuild. Eventually we learned that we would get a new building which we were asked to comment on. I remember we were told we couldn’t have a clock tower (don’t remember anyone asking!) Sports England came on board to help out and gave us funding for upgrading the facilities including a climbing wall (instead of the clock tower I suppose).
On the downside Ernie disappeared to look after another centre nearby. African Caribbean himself he was popular with local youth and could reach out to young people with excellent results. The centre became managed with a new staff. We could hire the building for meetings but it had to be cleared by 9.00pm.
Last Wednesday a large group of people assembled at Hamstead Hall School from the Handsworth Against the Cuts Campaign with banners and songs led by Dave Rogers of Banner Theatre. Laurel Road was a candidate for asset transfer. It was the Handsworth Wood Ward Committee meeting at which the three Labour councillors were present. A request had been made for Laurel Road to be an agenda item. This had not happened but I suppose because of the size of the protest group discussion was grudgingly allowed. We were promised that our views would be taken back to the City Council. The councillors said they were on our side, but in view of the draconian cuts in funding there was little they felt could be done.
The question remains why the Labour Party, now in control, acquieces to everything thrown at it. Handsworth Wood Ward may have continued with its Tory representation. The question is whether the three Labour Councillors oppose the transfer of assets and privatisation. The sad fact is that they do having openly supported first Academies and then Free Schools. While Labour brought in academies their stance of Free Schools has been oppositional. At least of two of the Councillors actively supported Free Schools in Handsworth set up by the Nishkam Centre. Do these councillors not understand that asset transfer and privatisation is the handing over of public money for the purpose of making the now private assets profitable to an unaccountable group of people? How will they support us when they believe in asset transfer etc?
After Education, Education, Education comes Gove. Blair’s Education turned out to be about Academies and the start of interfering with State Education as we knew it. Not perfect by any means, but a coherent system, once much prized, where Local Authorities had control and everyone knew where to go to take up issues, such as their local councillors. Parents had representatives on Governing Bodies. Gove had a head start in dismantling the whole edifice handing over all state (our paid for) assets to any crackpot in town.
This week Free Schools have been in the news. Twice I have noticed headlines. Today the Guardian reports a head teacher standing down. She was appointed to a primary school in London with no teaching qualifications and no experience of running a school. Mind you she had great ideas and backers not a million miles from Gove himself. The world incestuous comes to mind.
“Annaliese Briggs was appointed principal of Pimlico primary in central London in March by a charity set up by a government minister. She had no teaching qualifications and little experience in running a school. The new free school is sponsored by the Future Academies charity set up by Lord Nash, a junior schools minister and one of Michael Gove’s closest allies.”
This report comes days after threats to close an Islamic Free School in Derby for reasons which have still to become clear. While Labour is asking questions it is doubtful where the battle lines will be drawn, even under supposedly “red” Ed Miliband. There is no evidence they are about to abandon a free market approach to education, health, prisons et al. Presumably the lobby and revolving door system we have behind an unaccountable (to us) parliament rules the day irrespective of parliamentary party.
While divided countries/territories suffer divided education, Gove and partners move apace to install a chaotic world of madness. Northern Ireland wants to educate its warring factions together. In Israel/Palestine schools can only teach so that conflict is endless leaving those like the late Edward Said and Daniel Barenboim to try to heal the rift.
In Birmingham Gove has had his way in trashing Birmingham’s once proud Education Service with minimal opposition from the Council. Even the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services in the Con Dem Coalition, Les Lawrence, didn’t support academies and free schools they have gone ahead. Quite a few Labour Councillors think academies are a good idea and some have supported the Nishkam Free Schools. Quite a muddle.
It’s good that the City Council wants to retain some influence on education, but why has it let so much control continue to ebb away. The idea of a co-operative enterprise to maintain cohesion is a good one but it is over a year ago since it was first mooted and although it is supposed to be in place by September there is little sign of an effective vehicle to emerge so far. The Labour Cabinet Member for Children’s Services, Brigid Jones, may have good intentionbut she needs a strong officer corps for support. It is not Councillors who are paid to run the City Council, and I know as a former Cabinet Member how important competent and loyal officers are. Brigid’s officers are out of control. I have told her this from my experience as a former governor of Foundry School. When it was forced to become an Academy the Birmingham officers, who should have been supporting the school, came in holding the hand of Gove’s agent, Rob Briscoe, to polish us off. I have heard the same story over and over. Too many Birmingham schools are being handed over to chains of organisations with CEOs taking telephone number salaries. They are paid with our taxes! This is where the money supposed to be for our education service has gone. Even if you like academies you should at least have a say in who your sponsor is. That was denied governors and parents in at least one case with once again Birmingham education officers standing by without offering advice or support. What are they paid for?
I have written to Albert Bore about this, but he has other problems, like raking over the ashes to find if there is anything left to run a Council at all. But he has never been in opposition to private take over of Council Service, he only has a preference for KPMG over Capita.
Once upon a time astute people brought in an educationist rather than a local government careerist to run education. Under Sir Tim Brighouse it thrived. I attended two occasions when HM inspectors looked at the service provided. On both occasions it was accorded high praise, even when Brighouse’s arch enemy Chris Woodhouse led the inspection. How all that can disappear in the blink of en eye is unimaginable. Labour could have seen this coming preparing while still in opposition to do what a number of authorities like Bradford, Liverpool and Cornwall have achieved. What is being done now is too little, too late. Brigid is on her own as she is undermined by her officers. They should be sacked now. Bore is too busy to give it his full attention and he embraces privatisation. Labour Councillors are all over the place. Step forward parents, governors, teachers and other stake holders to regain a democratic system led by the Council. Birmingham Campaign for State Education and the Anti-Academy Alliance will help.
The Socialist Labour Party is totally opposed to academies, free schools and any privatisation of public services.
As Polly Toynbee points out today is a defining moment for the Tories and their sycophantic partners who allowed this day to happen. A class war is declared as benefits are cut, the health service is changed beyond recognition and justice is dependent on the ability to pay. This is not to mention what is happening to education as schools are destroyed, handed over to mercenary chains of companies that have shown their ineptitude at running prisons, the Olympic Games or whatever they have been able to hoover up to feed their insatiable greed. Minister Ian Duncan Smith says he could manage on £53 a week. On which planet? We should send him there.
It has been the avowed aim of the Tories to roll back the state. The idea of “cradle to grave” support originated in World War 2 when the Beveridge Report was written, the Labour government implementing ideas it contained, including a National Health Service.
A group of MPs from the 2010 intake saw it as a mission to decrease state intervention, allowing individuals the freedom to thrive (or not). Today it is the catch word “austerity” used to buy acquiescence from a huge swathe of voters, but given the stated intention to do this anyway makes it look the contrived vehicle it is.
From what’s been going on in Birmingham I’ve had my suspicions that not all is above board as the wholesale destruction of out prized education system continues apace. It’s a funny old world. Les Lawrence, former Cabinet Member for Children’s Services in the Con-Dem coalition prefers co-operative schools, while the leader of the current Labour administration wants more academies. I suspect the Labour group is divided with a laissez faire approach as a result. I’ve written to Bore warning of the out-of-control mess we’re going to edn up with, but the inscrutable leader won’t say what his personal agenda is. It will be based on expediency for sure. Given the budget imposed on Birmingham I suppose it makes some sort of sense getting a load of schools out of your hair. Has Michael Gove approached Sir Albert one wonders? While that seems most unlikely he’s been busy distributing largesse through his agents. So Rob Briscoe has a budget for his operation “bugger our schools”.
How education is going to be planned and provided in future is anyone’s guess. I’m no fan of academies or free schools but a criticism of free schools so far is that they are allowed into areas that don’t need them, affecting existing schools adversely, while not being targeted on areas of need.
Is Gove unassailable? The exam debacle suggests he is not, and the way is wide open to building the resistance that is apparent to the privatisation of the health service. Otherwise when we wake up the whole of our hard won state education system will have been lost.
Why is Gove not only tolerated but lionised? It’s the ideology that matters rather than his consistence inept bungling. Like Bore in Birmingham you can’t take him at face value, the real agenda is there below the surface.