TUC Women’s Conference: Speaking out about schools

Posted in Janine's blog on Sat, 11/03/2006 - 13:30,

These last few days, I’ve been at TUC Women’s Conference in Eastbourne. There was no internet access, so no session-by-session blogging by yours truly – unlike at last year’s TUC Congress.

Now I’m back, you’ll be getting some chunks of reporting, in random order. First off, education …

The Musicians Union proposed a resolution about the importance of music in education. Hear hear. My son Alex used to get violin lessons at his primary school, which he loved, and which gave the lie to the prejudiced view of a failing inner-city school in a cultural desert. But they were lunchtime lessons, and when the teacher left, the lessons stopped.

The motion also contained a sentence objecting to the increased involvement of business in the running of schools, which was my cue to get up and speak my mind about the Education White Paper. Here’s what I said …

I want to add my voice to the large sections of the labour movement who are objecting to the White Paper.

In allowing more control by businesses and religious organisations, it is taking further forward the principles that drive the policy of Academies.

It will see more schools like the one in Gateshead, run by the Vardy Foundation, set up by dodgy car dealer and religious fanatic Peter Vardy. He also tried to get his hands on a school in Doncaster, but a superb campaign by the local NUT in conjunction with the community put a stop to that. In Vardy’s schools, creationism is taught alongside evolution as an equally valid explanation of the history of human society; pupils are given personal-issue Bibles and subjected to spot checks to make sure they are carrying it; and Harry Potter books are banned form the school library because they promote Satanism. (You see, kids, I managed to mention Harry Potter in a Conference speech.)

I live in Hackney, where we are getting five Academies. The first, Mossbourne, is already open and is my local school. It has a 60% quota for local kids, and many of us suspect that they deliberately keep down the number of working-class children in order to keep the exam results up.

When community organisations – such as our Tenants’ & Residents’ Association – put this allegation to Mossbourne Academy, the school refused to respond. Why? Because it is not accountable to the local community.

The government says that it is giving parents choice. Well I’m a parent, and no-one asked me whether I want choice. I don’t want choice – I want a guaranteed place at a good-quality local school for my three sons.

In the nineteenth century, before the labour movement won its great victory of free state education, who did working-class children have to rely on for a meagre schooling? Charities, philanthropists, churches, employers. Exactly the same groups that Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly want to hand over control of our schools to now.

So Tony and Ruth – Don’t tell us you are modernising education, when you are actually turning the clock back by over 100 years.

I was in the first generation of youngsters who did not have to sit the 11-plus. We should not stand for a return to selection, privilege and the humiliation of working-class children.

This White Paper spells the death of comprehensive education. We must fight it.

After the Conference session, I went back to my hotel room, switched on the news, and heard that various softy ‘rebels’ (including Estelle Morris and Angela Eagle) will now back the White Paper. With ‘rebels’ like that, who needs loyalists?

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