Posts Tagged ‘NUT’

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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Free Universal Secondary Education – Another Policy Originally from Labour and the Unions

March 16, 2016

Michael Sullivan in his book The Development of the British Welfare State (London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf 1996) gives due credit to the Conservative minister, Rab Butler, for establishing modern secondary education for all after the Second World War. But he also points out that before the War, this was a policy proposed mainly by Labour and the teaching unions. He writes

As early as 1920, attempts were being made at a parliamentary level to move beyond elementary education for all to secondary education for all. A Departmental Committee of the Board of Education, reporting in this year, argued that the sole relevant criteria for entry to secondary education should be ability (an argument to be echoed more than forty years later in relation to Higher Education by the Robbins Committee. This is of course a position which was not inconsistent with the Labour Party’s plans for secondary education, written for the minority Labour government by R.H. Tawney.

That document argued that secondary education should be provided free for all children between the ages of 11 and 16. It further claimed that an education system divided into superior secondary schools and inferior elementary schools was ‘educationally unsound and socially obnoxious’. (Pp. 44-5.)

The Inter-war movement for secondary education seems to have been driven by a de facto ‘triple alliance’ made up of the Labour party, the teaching unions and the wider trade union movement. Although individual actors in this alliance presented at particular conjunctures, policy plans differing in emphasis and recommendations, the common ground in their approaches I, as we will see below, clear. What we will see emerge is a process whereby the political and professional activities of these organisations, while failing to achieve a wider consensus on all of their gaols, accomplished agreement among opinion-formers and policy-makers on the key issue of secondary education.

Between the publication and acceptance of the Hadow Report and the commencement of the Second World War, each of these organisations acted in ways that put compulsory secondary education on the political agenda and kept it there. A critical moment in this process is represented by the publication of plans for education by the Labour party at the end of the 1920s.

In a major policy statement issued on May Day 1929, a month before the party’s election as a minority government, it had noted that the party ‘has always been committed to securing equal education opportunity for every child’. A key part of the process of achieving this goal was introduce ‘facilities for free secondary education at once’. (p.45)

He notes that free places for poor children were provided at grammar schools, but many working class parents were unable to take them up because of the expense of providing school uniforms, a point Ian Hislop also made several years ago in a programme he made on the history of British education.

A similar position had already been adopted by some of the teacher unions. In 1925, anticipating the emphasis on differentiation that the Hadow Report would subscribe to, the Association of Assistant Masters (AMA) had called for the establishment of secondary education for all. though the sort of school that the AMA had in mind was one with multiple biases catered for on one site, rather than the separation of secondary age pupils into different schools, it was in the forefront of educational and political thinking on this policy issue.

In the late 1920s both the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Labour Teachers contributed to this process of setting the policy agenda. Both of these organisations made recommendations that the provision of post-primary education should be in secondary schools for all pupils. Their preference, like that of the AMA, was for multilateral or multibias schools but the policy principle was clear. Secondary schooling should be provided as a compulsory and free part of a state education system. This principle was clear by the teacher unions in evidence they gave to government enquiries into education in the 1930s. (p.46.)

This should serve to refute at least part of the Tories’ claim that the Labour party and the unions are only interested in wrecking education. On the contrary, they wanted it free for all children, not just those of the middle and upper classes, since the 1920s. Of course, there were some radical, ‘loony-left’ teachers in the 1970s and ’80s, who should not have been let near a classroom. But in general, the vast majority of teachers join the profession not to indoctrinate their little charges with ideas about spreading the Revolution, but simply because they want to stand in front of a whiteboard and teach. And those who do it frequently talk about how immensely rewarding it is.

The Tories, however, have used it as a political football, and the teaching unions as a convenient target for the failings of their own horrendous education policies. And I can remember a time in the 1980s when a group of Tory MPs declared that schools should only teach children the very basics – reading, writing and arithmetic, before sending them out into the world. Presumably anything else was not only too expensive, but also too likely to enable children from working and lower middle class backgrounds to compete with the public school boys and girls they felt should be running the country as their right. I can even remember one very Conservative businessman on Wogan, wincing when Terry showed a clip of him as an extreme Right-wing schoolboy declaring that ‘poor people shouldn’t be educated’. Secondary schooling has shown to be too popular, necessary and successful for the Tories to get away easily with destroying it. But university education, by contrast, has been shown to be a different thing.

As for the Tory party’s attitude now towards schools, they are far less interested in giving children a good education than in packaging the education system up as another income stream for their corporate donors. Remember Nikki Morgan blustering away to breakfast TV’s Charlie Stayt and refusing to answer the question when he asked her how many academy school chains had had to be taken back into state management? She didn’t answer the question, just blabbered on about how it would be wrong to leave failing schools in state management. She also can’t answer the simple maths question of what’s six times seven.

So let’s make it clear: one of the reasons children today have a secondary school education at all is because the Labour party and the teaching unions demanded it.

Conservatives Want Primary Schoolchildren to Be Taught To Work Not Live on Benefits

December 5, 2015

This is how desperate the Tories are to try to stop people claiming unemployment benefit. According to a couple of pieces in today’s I, the Tories want children in primary schools to be taught about work and careers in order to stop them claiming benefits. It says in the article on page two, Primary Children ‘to Attend Career Talks’ that

Ministers are considering proposals that would oblige children to attend careers talks before they finish primary school to help discourage them from claiming benefits in the future. The initiative will be particularly relevant in communities with high adult unemployment, but teaching unions feel careers talks at 11 could be “too much too soon”.

This was all outlined in a speech given by Sam Gyimah, the education and childcare minister, to the Westminster Employment Forum. The article, Children in Primary School ‘Should Learn about Work’, by Oliver Wright, gives further information, and begins

Primary school children are to be taught by the time they leave junior school at age 11 that “in the future they will work”, under new proposals being considered by ministers.

Information and talk about future careers will be included in the curriculum while at the same time teachers will be expected to act early make clear connections between reading, writing and arithmetic and decent jobs in the future. Ministers believe the new initiative will be particularly relevant in communities with high adult unemp0loyment as part of a wider effort to end the cycle of benefit dependency.

However, teaching unions have expressed some concern at the plan, qu4estioning whether careers talks at 11 are a case of “too much too soon”.

The newspaper also gives the criticisms of the proposal by Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT. The I states that she

said while she agreed that it was good for children to learn about work, she had concerns. “There is a danger of ‘too much too soon’ in what is proposed,” she said. “School should be a preparation for life, and there is no better means to achieve this than through a creative space in the curriculum for teachers to discuss issues about the outside world, including work.”

As if schoolchildren aren’t under enough pressure already to get good grades.

I also wonder where the Tories get their ideas from. Young children have always had some idea that they were going to work after leaving school, as well as generally idealistic dreams about the kind of jobs they want to do, like train drivers, scientists, police, firemen, hairdressers, pop stars, and, when the space programme was still glamorous, astronauts. I think some schools already do arrange for outsiders to come in to tell primary school children about the jobs they do. I do voluntary work at one of the local schools helping children with their reading. When I was going there the week before last, a number of children in the playground asked me if I was ‘the doctor’. I thought at first that they meant, The Doctor, and felt like saying that I might be ancient, but I’m not over a thousand years old, don’t come from a different planet, and, sadly, don’t have a TARDIS. It turns out that they meant an ordinary medical doctor. One was coming in that afternoon, along with other professionals, to tell them about the kind of work they did.

This isn’t just about preparing children for the world of work, though. It’s about getting them to internalise the Tory belief system that if you’re unemployed, then it’s all your fault. You should have studied harder at school. It also seems to be part of the belief that people are voluntarily unemployed, because they want to be scroungers. No matter how often that belief is attacked, how often it is refuted, it still doesn’t get through their thick, brutal heads. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they still believe that the majority of people on the dole are there because they want to be there, because they’re lazy, or feckless.

Now it strikes me that the most powerful disincentive to trying anything at school is simply the lack of available jobs when you leave. To some children it may well seem that there is no point in working as hard as possible, if it will do them absolutely no good in the end. And the incessant testing schoolchildren are made to go through could also act as a disincentive. If you’re told you’re no good at reading, or mathematics, at a young age, it might stop some children trying to improve if they somehow get the impression that this will never happen. The school at which my mother taught also used to test children regularly, but this was intended to be diagnostic only, to show where the children needed more work in order to improve.

This latest proposal by Gyimah and other, unnamed ‘ministers’, is all about getting children to internalise Tory ideology. That the state will not provide jobs or welfare benefits, and unemployment is due purely to personal failure, not their disastrous handling of the economy based on an economic theory that deliberately sets an unemployment rate at 6 per cent. It should be thrown out, along with them.