Stop the great schools sell-off

Posted in ClassroomSolidarity's blog on Mon, 31/07/2006 - 20:19,

Comprehensive Education, despite its overwhelming popularity amongst voters, is in mortal danger from the proposals in the Government’s Education Bill passed in the House of Commons only with the support of the Tories. The Bill will hand control of state education over to private sponsors with little or no experience of running schools.
According to a recent poll over 61% of headteachers oppose the Bill. School surveys rarely bother to ask what classroom teachers or other school staff think. If they did so they would find many more than 61% of those who actually teach opposed to the policies of the government. The poll also showed that 72% of Labour MP’s opposed the government’s plan to make all schools independent trusts outside any form of democratic control. Sadly when it came to the vote in Parliament most of these didn’t have the bottle to make their opposition count.
Perhaps some will change their mind now we know that Andrew Rosenfeld was a major sponsor of a City Academy in London. Apart from once applying to be National Treasurer of the Tory Party it turns out that Rosenfeld is one of those who supplied a total of £14 million in loans to Blair’s election campaign, loans most members of the Labour Party knew nothing about. Set Rosenfeld alongside existing academy sponsors and Blair cronies like the Christian Fundamentalist Sir Peter Vardy and you begin to get a picture of the kind of education envisaged by the Education Bill.
In the end whilst it’s clearly a plus that over 75 Labour MPs didn’t vote for the Bill the key to the battle against it lies outside Parliament, amongst parents and students and most of all amongst trade unionists. The early signs from the NUT leadership, the obvious trade union to lead opposition to Blair’s schools privatisation programme, are not good.
The January edition of NUT News is a case in point. Instead of sounding alarm bells about the mortal threat to free comprehensive education it pays tribute to the current government’s record on education. Opening with, “Education has improved greatly since 1997” and continuing “the Government has clearly played a major role in this improvement”, the reader has to suspend their conception of truth, their experience of reality under New Labour.
Now it seems that the NUT leadership only intend to fight the Bill by way of lobbying and letter writing rather than any forms of direct action. But writing to MP’s may not be enough to shift the government. Blair is determined to leave office on a high note. He has chosen education to go out with a bang. If the Union wants fair admissions procedures and equitably funded comprehensive schools under the control of democratically elected local authorities then we are going to have to fight for it.
At the time of writing the wording of the Executive Priority Motion on the Bill is unknown but, if the signs are to be believed, it is unlikely to contain a serious action strategy. It will therefore be necessary to consider carefully the kind of amendments we want to promote. We believe this should involve some form of non-cooperation with the the terms of the Bill when it becomes statutory.
It is encouraging that some MP’s have gone on record to defend comprehensive education. But Tony ‘I will never axe grammar schools’ Blair will bring most of those into line.
New research confirms the belief that in areas where selection operates the 75% who are not selected do worse than their peers in non-selective areas. Blair will ignore this because he doesn’t give a damn for working class children. Who else could ask the question - “would you want to send your kid to a (secondary) school that gets you fewer than 30% (5A*-C)?”
The determination of members in schools to defend pay and conditions against the TLR cuts is the model that should be used nationally against the Bill. The embryo of solidarity shown by teachers during the local government pensions strike on March 28th demonstrates what can be achieved when we unite against a threat to universal provision. The Education Bill represents a greater threat to teachers than TLRs and it needs a response on a national scale to match the level of threat. The question is has the leadership got the bottle?
There is a lot to do if we are to overcome the complacency of the NUT leadership, and indeed those of other trade unions, if we are to see a serious fight to defend state education. Blair will not concede anything of consequence without a fight.
The determination of school-based trade unionists in alliance with parents, students and other trade unions are the major force that will tip the balance in our favour. We can start the ball rolling by planning a campaign to resist the Bill if passed.
Lots of commentators have compared the idea of trust schools to the Tory policy of grant-maintained schools in the 1990’s.
This idea passed through Parliament but was effectively killed by local and national campaigns to stop schools opting out. Local trade unionists linked up with parents and even constituency Labour parties to prevent it. We need to be prepared for this sort of campaigning again. But this time it will need to be more generalised.
The Tories at least allowed parents a vote on whether their school should opt out of democratic control. New Labour don’t plan to make that mistake. We will need to put pressure on schools planning to take up trust status. We will need to get commitments from LEAs that any new school set up will be a community school and that they will resist pressure to have trust schools.
Trade unionists need to consider what action they can take to defend school staff from the threat of trust schools which can tear up pay and conditions agreements. Experience from academies emphasises the huge threat to negotiating rights so the Union should be considering pre-emptive industrial action to stop this.
None of this means that the battle to stop this Bill in Parliament is irrelevant. It isn’t. However, the Bill will only lose in Parliament if enough Labour MPs vote against and there are enough concessions to ensure that the Tories also oppose it. If that combination of events happens, good.
We should work hard to increase the Labour rebellion. But the best way to shake up MP’s and councillors is to build a mass campaign for non-co-operation with the Education and Inspections Act including a focus on industrial action sooner rather than later.

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