Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Assistants’

Nick Gibb Spouts Nonsense on Schools: Thatcherite Choice and Bureaucracy

March 29, 2016

This is a bit more to the piece I’ve already put up this evening from UKGovernmentWatch taking apart the specious nonsense spouted on Radio 4 on Friday by the government’s spokesman, Nick Gibb about the plans to turn all schools into academies. Gibb made several assertions, including some autobiographical comments, which indicated that he thought he didn’t have a privileged education, ’cause he only went to a grammar school. This is indeed privileged compared to the rest of us hoi polloi, who went to comprehensives, or to an even older generation, many of whom went to secondary moderns and technical schools during the bad old days of the 11 Plus. But because it wasn’t Eton, or a comparable public school, like those attended by Cameron, Osbo or even ‘Oiky’ Gove, Gibb apparently thinks he’s been educationally short-changed, and is one of us commoners, so to speak. Or at least, that’s how he comes across from the above article.

Gibb’s weird psychology aside, I want here to add a few more points on two specific issues. These are Gibb’s assertion that you couldn’t have two different school systems in the same country, and his assertion that this would cut bureaucracy. Neither of these stand up. The UKGovernmentWatch article as done an excellent job demolishing both of them. However, you can take their attack much further.

Regarding his bizarre claim that you can’t have two different school systems at the same time, this contradicts one of the assertions Maggie made when she started the whole process of school privatisation rolling in the 1980s. Remember when the Blessed Saint of Grantham was telling all and sundry that Conservatism stood for ‘choice’? This was her constant mantra. Unlike the state system, where you had no choice but to use the existing state institution, the Tories stood for private industry, which would give you ‘choice’. It even affected her views on theology. She was a Methodist, and someone once made the mistake of asker her what she thought the essence of Christianity was. Now there are number of ways this could be answered. For Christians, one good one would be ‘God’s redemptive love for humanity, shown by His sacrifice of His son on the Cross’. You could also make a case for ‘forgiveness’ as the highest virtue, coming from God Himself. Others might be ‘God as moral lawgiver’, a definition which would also apply to the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam. And there are many others, depending on your view of the religion. Not so Thatcher. She said simply, ‘Choice’. It’s a bizarre statement. Theologically, it’s part of the ‘free will’ argument, which runs that humans aren’t pre-programmed automatons, and are free to chose good or evil. But I don’t think Thatcher meant that. She’d just got so used to answering automatically any question about Tory policy with ‘choice’, that she just used the same answer even in cases where it didn’t really apply.

Now when Thatcher launched the ‘opt-out’ schools, as they were then, this was heralded as yet another piece of Tory choice. Instead of going to a school controlled by the Local Education Authority, you now had a choice of sending your son or daughter to an independently run school. And the supporters of the new schools saw them exactly as providing the public with a great variety of schooling. The new schools were intended to be a different type, which would partly take the place of the old grammar schools.

Now, apparently, thirty years or so later, all that Thatcherite talk about ‘choice’ has been discarded. The aim is exactly the same as it was under Thatcher: the privatisation of the education system. They just don’t want to pretend that there’s any choice about it any more. In their minds, you shouldn’t be able to choose to send your child to a state school. Education must be private, because private enterprise is always better. Even when it isn’t.

Which brings me onto the issue of what happens, when privately-run schools underperform compared to their state equivalents. When that happens, their supporters then whine and moan about how unfair state competition is. This happened thirty years ago when I was at school. The new opt-out schools were supposed to be free to offer teachers new terms and conditions. In fact, they then had a problem attracting staff, for the obvious reason that pay and conditions in the local authority schools were better. And so one of the headmasters, whose school had opted out, or a spokesman for the opt-out schools as a whole, got into the paper moaning about how unfair it was that the state should be able to provide better opportunities to teaching staff, thus penalising the poor independently-run schools. Never mind that, according to that great ideologue of free trade, Adam Smith, that competition was supposed to produce the best quality automatically, and if you couldn’t compete, this was the proper result of market forces. Smith thought that schooling was better when it was provided by private enterprise, as teachers would be keener to get good results. This is undoubtedly where Thatcher and New Labour ultimately got their idea for privatising schools, via Milton Friedman, von Hayek and the rest of the free marketeers. Smith also conceded that where private enterprise was unable to provide a service, such as on the construction of public works, like roads and canals, it should be left to the state. Which means, if you take that part of Smith seriously, that opt-out schools and the Academies have to be abolished, as they can’t compete with state education provided by the local authority.

But the last thing Cameron, Osbo, or New Labour before them want to do, is concede that academies and the privatisation of the school system is a failure. It contradicts everything they’ve been brought up to believe about the superiority of free market capitalism. And worst of all, it won’t give a lucrative industry to their paymasters in big business. Like one Rupert Murdoch.

As for bureaucracy, the academy chains and the firms that run them do, of course, have their own bureaucracies. And one of the problems of taking schools away from local authority control has been the growth of bureaucracy within the schools themselves. As schools were made more responsible for ordering teaching materials and running their own affairs, so the paperwork consequently grew. One complaint I’ve heard from teachers is that they spend too long now on administration, instead of what they joined the profession for: to stand in front of a class and teach. It seems to me that’s why the work of actually teaching a class has been increasingly taken over by teaching assistants, under the supervision of a superior teacher.

So Gibb’s argument defending the government’s policy of privatising education is demonstrably false. It contradicts Thatcher’s policy, as articulated by its supporters in the education system, that it was providing further choice with the addition of a new type of school. And the schools, according to Smith, should be closed down if they can’t compete with state provision. And rather than cutting bureaucracy, they’ve only increased it.

But Gibb, Thicky Nicky, Osbo and Cameron won’t admit that. Not as it means having to admit that private industry isn’t the automatic best solution for everything, ever. And certainly not if it means denying their corporate paymasters a nice slice of state business.