At the recent National Union of Teachers conference, delegates voted to fight the Government’s planned expansion of the Academy programme. Academies are publicly-funded independent schools, new schools built in “deprived” areas or where schools are deemed to be “failing”.
Businesses and other sponsors, including religious organisations, donate towards the cost of building a new school — the current price is £1.5 million. That is often a fraction of the overall cost (less than 10%). The schools are then handed over to the sponsors to run, although they do not have to pay the running costs. Many sponsors of the 17 existing Academies have yet to pay the full price of the schools they have “bought”.
Teachers transferred to the new schools are protected by TUPE regulations, which guarantee their employment terms and conditions. But newly appointed teachers can be employed on whatever terms the “edu-business” chooses.
The sponsors own the land. They control the curriculum and the governing body. They have some control over admissions.
Matt Bailey, a teachers’ union representative, and Tracey Morton, a parent, spoke at a fringe meeting at the National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference at Easter about their successful campaign to stop a Doncaster school being taken over by the Vardy Trust.
Peter Vardy is Blair’s kind of sponsor: a multimillionaire and a Christian fundamentalist. At Vardy-run Kings School in Middlesbrough “creationism” is taught beside evolutionism, as an “equally valid” “theory” . At Kings School 28 students were excluded in the first few months. Academies can exclude as many students as they like — unlike other schools they are not fined for excluding.
Other sponsors so far include individual capitalist entrepreneurs, companies and churches, plus — probably Blair’s favourite — the Church Schools Company.
The aim of Labour’s education reforms has been “to modernise education in areas of social deprivation”. But what has that boiled down to?
Under Thatcher, many thousands of working class children left school ill-educated, looking forward to a lifetime of joblessness. Labour’s plan was to make the capitalist education system work — on capital’s terms, by getting young people fit for work. In New Labour’s Britain, the kind of work is not important.
New Labour policies have included Performance Related Pay for teachers, jailing the parents of persistent truants, and letting “successful” business into education.
Despite the rhetoric, Labour’s education policy really has nothing to do with tackling social exclusion. That would require reversing the legacy of Thatcherism — the social inequalities and poverty — a policy that, for New Labour, is too expensive.
New Labour sees private capital in the public services as a straightforward good, a guarantor of efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. Schools minister David Milliband typified New Labour’s ideological thrall to business in schools when he said that every FTSE company ought to become a sponsor for state secondary schools.
Most people don’t want business in education, even when business is not in it to make direct profits. They do not like the proliferation of company logos. They know they will have no recourse to a Local Education Authority when thing go wrong. They fear that even if these edu-companies do not profit immediately from children’s education, they aim to profit long-term.
The Doncaster campaign against Vardy triumphed. If the NUT and other unions join with parents, students and other campaigners, the latest wave of business in education, the Academies programme, can be stopped.
By Sam Ruby