Tom Unterrainer reports from Nottingham
Despite all the critical reports, investigations and public opposition the Government appears more determined than ever to press ahead with City Academies. It seems that for each concern raised about the scheme, an “innovation” is announced. The latest idea is to give one school away for every three purchased — so if you’ve got six million pounds to spare you can buy yourself half a local education authority at a bargain price.
In the same way that Ruth Kelly, Lord Adonis and the other jokers running education in this country have picked up a few tips from Asda, they’ve learnt a thing or two from our side. The successful campaigns against the takeover of schools by religious fundamentalists like the Vardy Foundation, and the bad press these people promote, have been noted by Nottingham City Council among others.
Campaigners in Nottingham have been reassured that the proposed sponsors for the City Academies are to be of a “respectable” nature. By “respectable”, the council implies that they’ve decided not to take money from any of the religious organisations currently running schools into the ground up and down the country.
Don’t be too impressed. The Academies scheme is based on a “Bible and the Market” view of the world — religious values sort out all the “moral degradation” and “business logic” makes the other choices in life for us.
The council is pinning its hopes on three “mystery” sponsors. Four separate appeals through the Freedom of Information Act have been informed that the identities of the sponsors are “commercially sensitive”.
You wonder why? What they have said is that rather than your common-or-garden variety of Academy, Nottingham is to have “specialist” academies. Anyone who walks around Nottingham will realise that construction is booming, the shops are full of people and as long as there are humans on Earth, there’ll be birth, death and disease. The council seems determined to meet the need for builders, shop assistants and health-workers by building three such “specialist” schools.
There are two obvious objections to their proposals. The first is that this scheme is nothing more than a return to the days where pit-village-kids went down the pit. It’s no accident that the three proposed Academies are in the most deprived areas of the city. The children of these working-class communities will, from the age of eleven, be consigned to a career chosen for them by faceless education officials.
The second objection is that marginalising sections of the curriculum in favour of specific vocational training ignores the fickleness of the labour market. The booming demand for IT skills from the mid-nineties created a situation where it’s possible to leave school with an equivalent of five GCSEs in computing and nothing else.
But dot-com bubble has burst somewhat and these skills alone do not guarantee a job. The same will happen again, only this time students will be left with even more specific, less transferable skills and no job prospects.
We live in a world where education is being replaced by training and where the conditions for an unemployment crisis are being blindly stoked.
The alternative is to reject this privatisation agenda, kick the religious fanatics out of our schools and allow young people to get an education and determine their own future.