Posts Tagged ‘Church of England’

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

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Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 3

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies and the Curriculum

There are also major concerns about what academies actually teach. Beckett writes from a secular viewpoint, and is very sceptical about the involvement of the churches and evangelical groups in running schools. He states that there may be a democratic argument to be put forward in favour of handing schools over to religious organisations, but this has not been made. Instead, he cites quotes from Peter Vardy and the Roman Catholic spokesman for education in Scotland, McGrath, who regret that the churches have relinquished schools to the state. He shows how the churches, including the Church of England, are trying to get into education with the aim of indoctrinating a new generation of believers. Beckett isn’t entirely opposed to religious involvement in schooling. He has nothing against the traditional compromise, in which schools offered religious education and an act of daily worship, but were otherwise left to get on with things. But the religious character of some of these schools does become a problem, such as their refusal to employ staff of a different faith, or when most of their pupils are non-Christians, such as Muslims. Or when the Christian ethos is expected to get down into lessons like pottery. Peter Vardy and his organisation are a matter of considerable concern, because of Vardy’s determination to teach Creationism as an acceptable scientific theory, which has been criticised by the Royal Society, amongst others.

It is not just the religious organisations that present problems with the subjects taught at academies. Sponsors are also able to set the curriculum, and so this reflects the particular interests of the businessman or organisation sponsoring the academy. In academies run by particular firms, the emphasis may be on those skills the firm requires, even though several of them have denied that they are in fact doing so. Beckett makes the point that these firms are effectively training ‘the worker bees of industry’ for tomorrow. Where the sponsor is a sports club, the academy, naturally enough, specialises in sport. The result is that subjects like technology and business are favourite subjects with sponsors, but ordinary, valuable subjects like English, Maths and languages, for which there is also a need, are much less well represented.

Driving Down Other Schools

Beckett also describes how academies also work to drive down the other schools in their areas. Academies may received massive funding from government – like £37 million – while something like £2 – £6 million may be granted to maintain the other state schools in the area. Academies thus may become the favoured choice for parents. They are also highly selective. There is evidence that very many of the academies expel difficult pupils, thus passing them on to the conventional state sector. Many of them also opt to select 10 per cent of their intake according to ability. Or they may choose to take them by banding. In this instance, children are divided into three bands of above average, average, and below average educational performance/ capacity. Schools following this method of selection take equal numbers of all the above bands. However, as academies were designed to raise standards in areas where there may be considerable deprivation, the lowest bands may fill up very rapidly, because of the way poverty brings down educational performance and expectations. So the new academy doesn’t take on all the ‘failing’ pupils in its deprived areas. Several of the academies in deprived inner cities targeted not local parents, but those further out in the leafy suburbs, who could be expected to be more affluent and send brighter, more capable pupils to their schools.

The Poorer Performing Schools Doing well In Spite of Disadvantages

And some of the schools that were declared ‘failing’, and slated to be turned into academies, actually were performing very well under circumstances over which they had no control. One of these schools, for example, was in an area where there was a large number of refugee children, none of whom were fluent in English. This school, however, had high staff morale, and provided value for money in the considerable improvement it made on these children’s grades from a very low base. This was before ‘value’ was taken into consideration, however, and Blair and his minions decided that the school wasn’t performing well enough.

No Improvement over State Schools

It is also very unclear whether academies provide any value for money or improvement over conventional state schools. Beckett presents a number of stats, which show that at one time, 11 out of 14 academies were in the bottom 200 schools. Where they did improve, it was quite often through transferring the less academically able pupils from GCSEs to GNVQs, which count as four GCSEs in the stats. When this is accounted for, the supposed superior performance of academies simply vanishes. And some of the improvements are simply achieved because vast sums of money were thrown at a failing school. Any school would have improved under these circumstances, and it’s a good question whether these schools would have improved more, if they had been under proper LEA control.

Academies and Cash for Honours (and Tony)

One of the book’s chapters is on the individuals, that Tony Blair took on board to sponsor the academies. As with so much of Blairite New Labour, there was more than a whiff of corruption about this. Money changed hands, so that sponsors could get a seat in the House of Lords or some other honour. One member of the department dealing with setting up the academies found the full force of the law, when he was caught in a sting operation by the Sunday Times. He had supposedly offered a lady journalist, posing as potential sponsor, the possibility of various honours. He was then arrested at 7.30 in the morning, and flung in jail on potential corruption charges, his career in government at an end. Meanwhile, the Blairite spin machine went into overdrive, with various Blairites, including David Miliband, declaring that no such sale was taking place. But politics was deeply involved, as many of those sponsoring academies had made generous donations and loans to the Labour party. Several of these were under investigation by the rozzers.

William Blackley’s 19th Century Plan for ‘National Insurance’

March 14, 2016

Looking through Pauline Gregg’s book, The Welfare State, I found this very interesting passage discussing William Blackley’s scheme in 1878 for setting up something very much like the National Insurance that forms part of the Social Security system set up as part of the welfare State. She writes

It [the 19th century movement for social reform] included the suggestions of a Church of England clergyman, the Reverend William Lewery Blackley, who, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, advanced the notion of basing social security upon an insurance principle. His scheme was startlingly simple. There would be a compulsory levy on all wage- or income-earners from the age of about seventeen, the total amount payable by each person to be assessed according to his earnings by a National Friendly Society or Club. But though the total payment was fixed, the time taken to pay it was at the payer’s discretion, with an outside age limit of twenty-one, and there might be a reducation for rapid payment. It is remarkable how much of the scheme later adopted by the Government was anticipated by Blackley. Arguing that the instrument of the National Friendly Club would need to be present in every parish, he seized upon the Post Office as the executor of his plan. Going to the source of income, as the National Insurance Acts to, he put the onus on employers to deduct the instalments of the national tax from wages, and he made proof of payment depend upon stamps stuck upon a card. The amount paid was thus readily ascertainable, and when a card was fully stamped the holder was exempt from further payments. In return for the sum of £10, which Blackley tentatively suggested as an average amount of levy, claims of something like 8s. a week for sickness and 4s a week as pension over the age of seventy were proposed. Not only would his scheme take away the stigma of Poor Law relief from the old and the sick, but, since the rich would be paying higher contributions and would not claim benefits, funds would accumulate and the National Friendly Club remain permanently solvent. In anticipating the actual words ‘National Insurance’ in the title of one of his articles in the Nineteenth Century Review in 1878 Blackley was in some doubt. “I have long hesitated”, he wrote, “before fixing on such a title as I have chosen for the present writing, from a knowledge that its very sound may induce most readers to pass it over as a matter so extravagant, impracticable, and Utopian, as to be unworthy of serious consideration.”

(Pp. 8-9).

Unfortunately, few people did consider his scheme worth considering. It’s a pity, because if the plan had been put into action, much of the squalor and suffering of the Victorian age could have been alleviated, and the foundation of the welfare state put in place forty years early.

Michelle Thomasson on the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Martin Luther King and Gandhi

December 28, 2015

Michelle Thomasson posted a fascinating comment on the influence of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Christian peace movement that arose in response to the First World War, and its influence on Martin Luther King and the Black Baptists’ campaign against segregation, and even Gandhi on the article I put up yesterday about the Christian peace movements and Pax Christi. She wrote

Thanks for putting this list together. Wanted to add that these little lights, though small, can have an enormous effect even though there has always been war mongering support from the UK’s state church e.g. https://theconversation.com/the-church-of-englands-vote-to-effectively-back-military-action-is-a-shocking-mistake-51679

Last December, I attended a conference called ‘Movements for Peace in 1914’ at Regents College, Oxford, supported by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Centre for Baptist History and Heritage; one of the talks illustrated just how far these peace movements reached. In the presentation on ‘The Relation between the International Fellowship of Reconciliation and the early Civil Rights Movement’ by Andrea Strubind (Prof of Church History and Dean of Faculty for the Institut fur Evangelische Theologie at the Universitat Oldenburg) a profound link was shown between the black Baptist movement and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). FOR had developed training and co-operation in non-violent peaceful demonstration and resistance. This training was shared in the Montgomery bus movement and many others in the Baptist church including Martin Luther King, even Gandhi learnt some of the peaceful resistance techniques from Clifford an early advocate of FOR because Gandhi had been influenced in his early years by Clifford when he had been injured and stayed with him in his home.

Today also the Quakers reach out in unexpected ways, they have peace education for schools, especially important to try and counteract the current government’s Dept. of Defence’s youth engagement strategy to build support for the armed forces (for which the poorer students are especially targeted!).
REF: http://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/nov/09/peace-education-schools-mililtary-ethos-children and further info from http://www.forceswatch.net/

Oliver Cameron Plans to Purge Parliament

October 28, 2015

Since the Lord’s threw out Cameron and co.’s plans to end tax credit for the low paid, he and Tories have muttering about how ‘undemocratic’ they are and how the Upper House needs to be reformed. Among those to join in the fulminations against the Lord’s was Bojo. According to the Tories, the Lord’s are only there to advise on amendments to legislation.

Not quite. They’re part of the system of checks and balances that were built in the British constitution. Part of this is the separation of powers – the legislative should be separate from the executive, and all that. They have always had the power to block legislation, but if I recall correctly they can only do so three times. Nor is their objections to legislation passed by a Tory dominated parliament anything even remotely unique. I can remember when the Lord’s under Thatcher regularly blocked her bills, causing her to rant even more about ‘Wets’.

Cameron’s ignorance of the British constitution isn’t surprising. This is, after all, the man, who said he didn’t know what the Magna Carta was on American TV. He probably thinks ‘constitutional checks’ should be spelt with ‘que’ in the second word, and are what he and his lackeys get paid by corporations for passing laws in their interests. Like all the Tory MPs, who blocked attempts to curb tobacco and alcohol advertising, because they sat on the board, or received donations, from the breweries and companies like British American Tobacco.

As for reforming the House of Lords, this is another piece of Tory hypocrisy. Remember when Tony Blair introduced his reforms for the House of Lords, so that the second chamber received ‘people’s peers’ nominated by Blair himself? The Tory press ranted at the time about this foul attack on the British constitution. The Lords, according to some on the right, like Roger Scruton, if memory serves, were held to be supremely fitted for their role, as they had been brought up to it through breeding and education. It was almost a eugenics argument, that somehow the peerage were all members of some master race. I’m sure that’s how they view themselves, but it certainly not obvious from some of the prize items on display in Cameron’s cabinet. Like that scion of the Baronet of Ballymoney, George Osborne.

There were even dark comparisons with Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell also attacked the English constitution by getting rid of the House of Lords, and altering the conduct of elections so as to exclude his enemies in the lower house. Quite apart from killing half the population of Ireland. He virtually ruled as a military dictator until his death and the restoration of the monarchy.

Now Cameron, from the party that has always defended aristocratic privilege, has decided that the House that enshrines the privilege is ‘undemocratic’ and needs to be reformed. How things change! There are further comparisons with Cromwell. The Lord Protector also hated and abolished the Anglican Church. Cameron has also had a battle with the churches. In the case of Cromwell, it was because the Church of England was, in his opinion, too close to that of Rome. Cameron is much less sectarian – he’s been under fire from just about all of them, because of the terrible effects of his reforms on the poor.

As for being a democratically elected lower house, even that claim is dubious. Much of the country stayed away from the polls, meaning that the result would be invalid under the government’s trade union legislation. Further reforms from the Tories could lead to as many as 10 million people losing their right to vote. The anti-racist organisation, Hope Not Hate, has started a campaign to get people to register. See their report at http://www.hopenothate.org.uk/voter-registration-report/.

So this is just more hypocrisy and attacks on democracy and the constitution from a party, which has always hated the proles voting, and really can’t stand it when their own side, the Toffs, side with them.

For many British, and particularly Irish historians, Cromwell was a figure of hatred and revulsion, a proto-Fascist military dictator, complete with short hair cut and the goose-step. Cameron is becoming increasingly like him. How long before he starts calling himself ‘Lord Protector’, after the great revolutionary?

From 2013: Private Eye on Empty Places at Free Schools

March 22, 2015

Also in their edition for 19th April – 2nd May 2013, Private Eye carried an article on the number of empty places at the free schools in the government is encouraging being built up and down the country. May of these appear massively undersubscribed. Furthermore, the headmaster of the school, which was at the centre of the Eye’s article, had left his previous job due to incompetence and the massive dissatisfaction of staff and pupils. The Eye’s story ran thus:

Empty Desk Syndrome

A new free school in Durham will open in September in the very buildings of a local comprehensive that is closing due to falling pupil numbers. It’s yet another example of the bizarre policy of opening new schools where there are already far too many school places.

According to the National Union of Teachers, a fifth of the free schools opened so far are in areas which already had empty desks in schools. Millions of pounds of public money have been spent creating a huge surplus of secondary places, while primaries elsewhere in the county remain badly overcrowded.

County education chiefs opposed Durham Free School (DFS) taking over the site of Durham Gilesgate Sports College. Though the city is closing schools because it has so many unfilled places, it will be forced by the Department of Education to hand over the keys at the end of term to provide a temporary home until DFS finds a permanent site. DFS will open with just 60 pupils, but says it plans to have more than 800 eventually, gambling on future housing developments going ahead to the south of the city.

Meanwhile DFS’ headteacher Peter Cantley introduced himself – in a style that will be oddly familiar to Eye readers – with “A Message from the Headteacher…” Although he name-drops the schools where he was an assistant head and deputy head, he’s more reticent about his most recent post: “I previously led a school merger project for the [Department of Education}.”

That merger was between two faith schools, one Church of England, the other Roman Catholic, becoming St. Andrew’s College in Cleethorpes. After 18 months as headteacher, Mr Cantley resigned suddenly in May 2011. Governors said he quite to pursue employment opportunities closer to his come in Cumbria.

Ofsted inspections from after his departure reveal that his headship in Cleethorpes was not altogether happy. In February 2012, inspectors rated the school “inadequate” and blamed some of the school’s problems on “turbulence in senior leadership” following the merger. A follow-up inspection this year says of the new head, who started in December 2011, that staff and students “say that things have got a lot better since she came”.

The evidence from this case certainly bears out other reports that the expansion in the number of free schools is driven by ideology from the Tories, not need on the ground. And the same double standards we’ve come to expect from the Tories are in abundant evidence here. The numbers were too low to support a conventional state school, but for free market Tories, there’s nothing wrong with them for setting up a school outside local authority administration.