Posts Tagged ‘Faith Schools’

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 2

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Poor Staff Conditions

Both New Labour and the Tories have regurgitated endless amounts of Thatcherite verbiage about ‘choice’, when hyping their schemes to take education out of the control of local authorities. In fact, parents and teacher frequently have little choice over how academies are run. The funding agreement gives the power to make decisions regarding school management to the sponsor. These agreements get rid of all but a token representative from the parents and school staff on the school governors’ board. The staff governor may not even be a member of the teaching staff. They are free to set their own pay, terms and conditions, and are outside the regulations governing the conduct of teachers. New Labour was early faced with public opposition when they announced that teacher employed in academies would not have to belong to the compulsory professional body that makes sure teachers are actually fit to teach children. Blair and his team boasted that this was all part of the freedom academies enjoyed from the regulations binding conventional schools. Somebody pointed out that if this regulation was unnecessary, then surely it should also be repealed for ordinary schools. And if it wasn’t, then the regulation should be enforced in academies. At that point, New Labour decided that the regulation did apply, and backed down.
Several of the academy chains, including one run by 3Es, won’t recognise trade unions. These have massive staff turnover, including headmasters. Some of these are hired for truly eye-watering sums. One head, who formerly ran the King Solomon Jewish school, was taken on by an academy for £120,000. This chap eventually left as his experience running a faith school did not prepare him for the problems of coping with a mainstream school, whose children were taken from a variety of ethnic and faith backgrounds.

Refusal to Take Difficult Pupils

Conditions for pupils may not improve either, especially for children with behaviour problems. Academies have tried to keep up their appearance of improving standards frequently by excluding some of the most difficult children, who may find their school career, and their entire lives, wrecked as a result. One school managed to excluded 246 or so of its student population of 700-odd. Beckett provides a couple of cases showing what happened to some of the unlucky children, who were expelled. Except that, technically they may not be. They can exclude someone in a particular manner, so that it’s not technically an exclusion. And if it’s not technically an exclusion, then the Local Education Authority does have the statutory responsibility to find another school for them. This happened to a lad, ‘Jack’ – not his real name – who was excluded, and effectively confined to home for five months. The lad suffered from depression anyway, which was made worse. His mother reported that he then spent all his time in his room, not coming out even for his meals. Another boy, who was excluded, also found that no-one else was prepared to take him on. He ended up not doing his GCSEs. He did manage to get a vocational qualification at a local college, but as this is not an academic qualification, he will suffer at finding a job, and be unable to get into university.

And it isn’t exactly fun and games for the teachers, either. They’re frequently only hired on six month contracts, just in case they start getting a bit too settled and too powerful. One woman was assaulted by a boy in her class. He was not expelled, and the woman understandable felt anxious about going back to work. So she took a little bit more time off. Only to find that, as she was on a six-month contract, she was not paid for the extra time.

No Choice for Parents and Local Authorities

And parents and local authorities have also been penalised if they refused to get in-line and ‘on message’ with the Blairite diktats. Local authorities are expected to consider building academies when trying to renovate and improve schools in their areas, and the onus is always on changing to an academy. If a local authority refuses the government’s command to turn their school into one, the government responded with a scorched earth policy. No further money would be forthcoming for that area’s schools.

And Blair was both doctrinaire and personally vindictive towards those schools that refused to bend, or stubbornly remained ‘good’ in Ofsted reports. Documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that Islington Green School, which Blair was desperate to close, were actually rated good by the school inspectors, despite Chris Woodhead, the-then head of Ofsted, declaring that it was failing. There then followed a long campaign to have the school closed and transformed into an academy. Quite why is unknown, but Beckett speculates personal spite on the Warmonger’s part. The Blairs lived in its catchment area, but they sent their children over the other side of London to be educated at the London Oratory. The press seized on this, and the Dear Leader was embarrassed. So it looks like the school was failed for political reasons, to make it seem less like Blair wasn’t sending his children to it purely for reasons of personal snobbery.

In other areas, parents were subject to full set of New Labour spin and vilification if they put up protests against plans to close their schools and turn them into academies. One man, who was part of a campaign to save his local school, came under personal attack in the subsequent court case to save the school from closure. He was a member of the Socialist Party, what used to be the Militant Tendency, when it was part of the Labour party. And so New Labour seized on that, and claimed that he was only opposing the academy plan because of his political opinions. Not true, but that was how the local New Labour party spun it. Their Labour MP also sent out a very carefully worded letter to her constituents, that asked them to tick two boxes. One said that they were in favour of raising school standards involving a transfer to academy status. The other box said that they were not in favour of raising standards through academy status. Or something like that. It was carefully phrased to make it sound like the only way to improve standards was through changing to an academy. If you weren’t behind it, you weren’t in favour of improving school standards. It was the New Labour educational variety of the old leading question, ‘Do you still beat your wife?’

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Dennis Skinner’s Personal Recommendations for Improving Britain

May 31, 2016

The veteran Labour MP and trade unionist, Dennis Skinner, also makes some political recommendations of his own in his autobiographical Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences, published two years ago in 2014. He summarises his plans, saying

So I’m fighting for a new Labour government to axe the bedroom tax, save the NHS, cut fuel bills, created jobs for the young and raise living standards. My personal manifesto will be to the left of that of the party but I’m committed 100 per cent to the election of Labour candidates across Britain. (p.313).

As for the proposals themselves, he writes (headlines in bold are mine)

I’ve a few suggestions of my own to boost Labour’s popularity and beat the Tories.

End Privatisation

To start the ball rolling we should end expensive privatisation instead of paying a fortune to contractors such as G4S, Serco and Capita that make a mess of services in the process. It’s time we got back to publicly run, publicly owned services provided in the public interest.

Nationalise the Railways

On the railways, the £900m surplus on East Coast trains, operated publicly after the private sector crashed twice, shows us the way ahead. Instead of boosting Richard Branson’s profits, a nationalised railway could make a profit and generate the cash to improve every station in Britain.

A ‘Robin Hood’ Tax on City Speculators

If we want extra money for the National Health Service and social care, we should levy a Robin Hood tax on speculators in the city. Directing the funds raised directly to health and care, including help for the mentally handicapped, rather than to the Treasury, would be immensely popular. We could start with a low rate and increase it when the tax proves to be popular, as I’m sure it will be, by emulating the one per cent National Insurance rise for the NHS when Gordon Brown was Chancellor.

Scrap Trident

Scrapping Trident would free up billions of pounds for a massive house building programme so everybody has a roof over their head and nobody is homeless. The position on council house sales has to change or local authorities won’t build houses if they know they must sell them cheaply after a few years.

End Nuclear Weapons, Restore Local Democracy

The savings from defusing nuclear weapons can also help save local democracy. Councils are being swamped by central government. Powers are either grabbed by Whitehall or transferred to unelected quangos. Ever since the Clay Cross rent rebellion, Whitehall has dictated to communities. We need to reverse the trend.

Nationalise the Utilities

On the question of the utilities – gas, electricity, water – this is the moment to start taking them back into public ownership. We took control after 1945 and right up to Wilson’s final government, when he nationalised aerospace with a majority of only three, public ownership was advanced. To cap energy bills is a good idea but a better plan is to control utilities by restoring public ownership in Britain of firms that are currently owned in France, Germany and almost every country on the globe.

Spend More on Education; End Privatised Schooling

Spending on education more than doubled under the last Labour government, which was impressive. let’s stop the growth of faith schools and misnamed free schools – tax payers fund them so they’re not free – by enhancing the powers of local authorities to champion the education of every single child.

Raise Minimum Wage

We need to end the pay freezes. The people that are carrying the burden of the bankers’ ramp are mainly workers at the bottom of the scale. The Living Wage shouldn’t be optional. Everybody should get it. But let’s not stop at £7.65 an hour outside London and £8.80 in the capital. The trade union campaign for 10 an hour should be Labour policy. A decent day’s work deserves a decent day’s pay.

Ban Zero Hours Contracts

We should introduce legislation to outlaw zero hours contracts and private employment agencies. Playing off worker against worker, ferrying into Britain cheap labour to undercut employees, is poisoning community relations. Sticking 10, 12 or 15 eastern Europeans into a house then deducting large sums form their earnings is in nobody’s interests except cowboy employers. Reasserting the role of Jobcentres as local labour exchanges will improve wages and conditions.

Increase Trade Union Rights

Trade union rights must be strengthened significantly, including the abolition of sequestration. Industrial action requires two sides to be involved in a dispute, yet it is union funds that are seized. Rebalancing employment rights in favour of workers and unions is essential if we are to build a fairer economy.

Abandon Tory Obsession with Fiscal Restraint

And we must escape the dumb economic mantra about balancing the books. There would have been no Spirit of ’45 if Clement Attlee’s goal was to balance the books. There would have been no NHS, new Welfare State, new council houses and unemployment wouldn’t have dropped to 440,000 in 1950, after only five years of the finest Labour government ever. In fact the finest government ever.

We need spending to get people to work and the economy growing. You don’t need a crystal ball to see where we should be going. We can find the way ahead by reading the history books. (pp. 309-12).

He states that they’re not just his ideas, but have been discussed for the last 10 or 20 years in the Bolsover constituency.

I have some caveats. I don’t like the attack on faith schools, having been to an Anglican faith school myself, and I don’t share his euroscepticism. But other than that, I think he’s absolutely right. Thatcherism has done immense damage to this country. Now, after thirty years of it, it is long past the time it should have been discarded.

Secular Talk: Oklahomas Bans History Course; Fox News Wants to Ban State Schools

January 27, 2016

This video from Secular Talk, the atheist news show, dates from February 2015. I’m not an atheist or secularist, and this is an American issue. Nevertheless, Murdoch is over here too, and he would just love to buy up the Beeb and replace it with his own grotty channel. And likewise, his stooges and collaborators in the Tory party want to privatise state education, just as Dirty Rupe would like to take over part of the school system. So, this needs to be put up, and discussed over here.

Kyle Kulinski, the show’s host, talks about a clip on Fox News, where one of the hosts simply says, flat out, ‘There shouldn’t be any state schools’. Why? Well, the school board in Oklahoma has taken the step of getting rid of a history course on the grounds that it contradicted the doctrine of American exceptionalism. This is the idea that America is simply far and away better than anybody else, full stop, and has never, ever done anything wrong. The course taught students about slavery, Jim Crow and Segregation, and the genocide of the Indians. This all happened, and were part of American history. As Kulinski points out, this needs to be taught along with all the good America has done for the world, like the Marshal Plan and so on. But it didn’t satisfy the Right, who have totally abolished the course and replaced it with Reagan’s speeches.

I’m surprised they got away with that, as it is political indoctrination. There’s no two ways about it. My guess is that there’s some arcane clause in the Constitution connected to states’ rights which allow them to do so. Which is probably why Kulinski recommends making state education a federal, not a state responsibility. And naturally, as an atheist he’s concerned about what would happen if the schools in Alabama and the Conservative southern states were privatised, with the introduction of religion and the probably removal of evolution. I don’t share his concerns here, having attended an Anglican Church school which did teach evolution, and actively preached against sectarianism and racial hatred. I’m more concerned about the privatisation of education and its replacement with fee-paying schools. But on a wider issue, Gove and the Tories want to do much the same over here as Oklahoma has done. Gove wanted the school curriculum here in Britain to be reformed to celebrate Britain more. He was particularly incensed at teachers for informing their students about the horrors of the First World War, rather than celebrating it. You may remember Mike over at Vox Political attacked Gove for whining about how the history taught about the War resembled Blackadder Goes Forth. Presumably, this is what Gove and Thickie Nikki Morgan would like to replace proper history with. Only instead of Reagan’s speeches, it’d be Thatcher’s.

We need proper state education, and the impartial teaching of history, which tell its students about both the good and the negative parts of their countries’ past. And we definitely need to stop propagandists like those on the Oklahoma School board, Murdoch, Gove, Morgan and the rest of the Right trying to indoctrinate young minds with their own skewed views.

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.