IN THE HANDS of the Conservatives (and the Lib Dems while they were in coalition) the crises in all our public services have become acute. Across the board, the drive to privatise everything that people need has been brutal, evidence-free and flagrantly dishonest.
Privatisation, however, serves more than one purpose. Of course it diverts public funds, property and power into the pockets of a rapacious minority. But, perhaps more importantly, by depriving the many of their entitlement to health, safe homes, good education and many other things, it maintains the imbalance of power between the haves and the have-nots and seeks to perpetuate it.
Education in the best Enlightenment sense can be a great liberator but, in the very nature of bringing up young children, in cynical hands, it can also be a great disabler. English education is currently in chaos. There are somewhere between 70 and 90 different types of school. The mess looks deliberate and conforms to the pattern of destructive marketisation employed by the Conservatives for all our public services - first reduce the funding of the service and then open the service to ‘new providers’. All but the most savvy middle class families are affected by the crisis and even they are being short-changed.
The education funding shortfall that mobilised so many people during the 2017 general election has not gone away. Hammond’s autumn budget provided no new money and schools and local authorities have been compelled to shed staff. Theresa May’s claim that more money is being spent on education than ever before is true. But as the population has grown, there are more children in education than ever before so the gross spend has to be divided among more pupils. The cash in schools for each pupil has been pegged at around £4,600 since 2012.
The problem is of course that with inflation and with local authority services (such as special needs expertise) being cut, the per-pupil money that schools have is required to buy more services and resources but can only buy less and less in real terms. For a labour intensive activity like education, that inevitably means staff cuts and increased class size.
The gross education budget includes the money that goes to academies and multiacademy trusts (MATs) and free schools: but the allocation favours academies disproportionately and the government does its best to keep the exact figures secret. This is the sharp end of the government’s privatisation programme.
Analysis by the Public Accounts Committee has revealed the gross financial inefficiency of this programme and the all too often scandalous financial mismanagement. Typically, failing MATs ditch their schools after stripping their assets. For example in 2017, Wakefield City Academy Trust pulled out of 21 schools while retaining the millions of pounds raised by the parents to help the schools.
The high stakes testing of the targetsled curriculum is making parents increasingly anxious. Children are becoming labelled as failures even before the transfer from primary to secondary. The government is also gearing up to categorise children’s ability as early as the age of two so that their education can be suitably “tailored to their needs”! This will ensure that the disadvantages that children are born with will remain a permanent feature of their lives.
Harder-to-teach children are being excluded or are disappearing from academy rolls so as to massage MATs’ test results. Pressure experienced by teachers trying to do a professional job within the system is inevitably transferred to the children in their care, in the worst cases contributing to an alarming growth in mental illness among the very young. It is also becoming a discouragement for people considering teaching as a profession. Teacher recruitment is down by a third in the last year while many young teachers leave the profession after only three years at the chalk face.
Theresa May has made it very clear that she favours the selective privileged education of the few offered by grammar schools and, had she not thrown away her Commons majority in 2017, would have pressed ahead with her ambition to elevate the few above the many.
Nevertheless, the ‘grammar school annexe’ loophole has allowed expansion of existing grammar schools to create 7,600 new places - the equivalent of 11 new grammar schools.
Labour’s idea for a National Education Service could be the beginning of a new era for English education but it will need to develop an evidence-based programme that could begin implementation on the first day of a new government. Angela Rayner’s Education Charter promises a better world. The urgent job is to put practical flesh onto fine aspirations. The campaigns that work together as Reclaiming Education have given a lot of thought to what an NES could look like and are more than willing to help. http://www.reclaimingeducation.org. u k /What % 2 0 s hou l d % 2 0 a % 2 0 National%20Education%20Service%20 mean.pdf.
Labour’s manifesto should promise to tackle waste, inefficiency and corruption and lay the foundations for a stable and sustainable education system - that should be firmly and unequivocally based on our commitment to equality and inclusion to serve the many and not just the few. » http://www.campaignforstateeducation. org.uk/index.html
is secretary of the Campaign
for State Education