Posts Tagged ‘‘The Great City Academy Fraud’’

Lib Dems Aim at Winning Blairites from Labour

September 21, 2016

Also in the I newspaper today, right opposite the report about the three pro-Corbyn councillors, who have been suspended from the local party in Bristol, was the news that the Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made a bid to win over right-wing Labour voters in his speech at their party conference.

The article states

Tim Farron cast himself as the heir to Tony Blair yesterday as he delivered a direct appeal to disillusioned Labour voters to switch allegiance to the Liberal Democrats.

Only his party can prevent a 25-year-long Conservative “stranglehold over government”, he insisted in his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.

Mr Farron coupled praise for many of Tony Blair’s achievements in office with a stinging attack on Jeremy Corbyn for viewing winning general elections as a “bourgeois distraction”…

Targeting the centrist Labour supporters, the Lib Dem leader said he believed Mr Blair made many serious mistakes, but admired him for achievements such as investing in schools and hospitals and introducing the national minimum wage.

“I respect him for believing that the point of being in politics is to get stuff done, and you can only get stuff done if you win. Otherwise, you’re letting your opponent get stuff done instead, ” Mr Farron said.

Farron and his supporters are keen to promote the idea that the party is undergoing a revival after losing all but eight seats in the elections last year. The same article quotes him as saying that by next year, his party will be the only thing standing between another Tory election victory.

But Farron has already confirmed my negative opinion of his party, and my decision that I won’t vote for them. Tony Blair and his supporters aren’t centrists. By the standards of the 1980s, they’re actually extreme right-wing Tories. I don’t mean they’re extreme right in that they’re racist, misogynist or hate gays. They’re not. But they are extremely right-wing in that they took over Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal policy of privatising everything she could, including parts of the NHS. Blair took this over and massively expanded it. Alan Milburn wanted to reduce the health service to a logo on services provided by the private sector. See NHS-SOS by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis. As for investing in hospitals, this is a moot point that needs qualification. Blair did invest in hospitals under the PFI initiative, a policy set up by that prancing snob Peter Lilley deliberately to open up the NHS to private investment. Under the PFI, the hospitals built are smaller than those constructed using conventional financing methods, and are actually much more expensive. These costs are met by closing and amalgamating other hospitals. Farron might consider these as mistakes, but they are an integral part of the system. Blair was responsible for closing down local hospitals in order to create a part-privatised system that was more wasteful than the previous, wholly state-owned, state-funded NHS. But it got him plaudits from the Right as the true anointed heir of Thatcher, barrels of money given to him and his continuity group, Progress, from donors in the private medical industry.

Much the same could be said of his education policy. This essentially consisted of the Simpering Scrounger taking over Norman Baker’s policy of city colleges outside the Local Education Authorities, which even the Tories ditched as a useless dud. Just as he did with Anderson Consulting, who had also been ditched by the Tories, Blair picked them up and adopted the policy as his own. The only difference is that he tried to make the wretched scheme look better by calling them ‘city academies’ and then just ‘academies’. Like the PFI hospitals, they’re massively more expensive than ordinary schools. They can cost something like £24-35 million, far more than the funding given to LEAs for all the schools they have to run. And like the PFI hospitals, it’s another part-privatisation where the taxpayer effectively picks up the bill. They’re given over to the management of second-rate entrepreneurs, often with extreme dodgy ideas on what counts as proper education. Poor, and children with exceptional needs, like the less academic, or disruptive pupils, are not taken, or expelled at an alarming rate in order to keep the wealthy, intellectually able kids the schools needs to show they’re improving standards. But they don’t. They’re actually little better than state schools. Where they have improved standards, it’s simply due to the vastly larger funding they’ve been given. These would have also improved standards in state schools, if they had been so fortunate as been given them. See Francis Beckett’s The Great City Academy Fraud.

The only person, who’s shown a genuine commitment to restoring standards and the integrity of our schools and health service, after these have been decimated by nearly four decades of Tory and New Labour misrule, is Jeremy Corbyn. By aiming to win the Blairites over to his party, Farron has shown that he effectively supports all the policies Blair and the Tories have done ever since Maggie. The rise of mass starvation in our society, and the incalculable poverty, disease and despair that will result if the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS goes ahead, show that these are policies are country cannot afford. Like the Tories, the Lib Dems should not be given any power in forthcoming elections.

Grammar Schools Show May Has No Idea About Education

September 10, 2016

I saw Theresa May announce on the news yesterday that all schools were going to have the opportunity to become grammar schools, along with the headlines proclaiming it in the Torygraph and the Daily Heil. I’ve no doubt both those papers were working themselves up into a frenzy about how wonderful and exciting this policy is going to be, how it’s going to smash years of ‘loony left’ progressive education forced on our children, which has resulted in them being poorly educated illiterates and prone to violence. They’ll also probably try telling us that it was all introduced in the terrible 1960s with the deliberate intention of destroying quality education and Britain’s wonderful class structure, along with teaching kids to be gay. There’ll also be some kind of insinuation coming, no doubt, that it’s all about destroying traditional ‘Britishness’ and so making us welcome foreigners, meaning Blacks, Asians – and particularly Muslims – as well as eastern Europeans.

Yes, the comprehensive schools were introduced with the intention of destroying the British class structure in education, which condemned kids from the working and lower middle classes to manual trades, and gave the wealthy access to the elite education for a clerical or managerial career. No, this class structure was not beneficial, whatever John Betjeman said about it in his poem, ‘Westminster Abbey’. But it’s been said many times that the British are locked in nostalgia for a glorious past that never was. One pop band, Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space, even said in one of their lyrics that ‘Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease’. And they’re right. And one of the major sources of the infection is the Daily Heil, for whom everything right and good ended with the Labour victory in 1945.

Apart from the sheer reactionary nature of the policy itself, it also seems to me to shout loudly that Theresa May hasn’t a clue about education. David Cameron’s education secretary was Thicky Nicky Morgan, now sacked from her post, who also didn’t have a clue either. This was the only thing that shone out of her vacant eyes, as she persistently failed to answer any questions on the failure of the government’s support of Academies at the expense of state education. Alan Coren once joked that Conservative candidates were all so similar, it was like they were all clones. There was a vast laboratory of them round the back of Conservative central office, from which they were taken and defrosted ready for elections. With Thicky Nicky you go the impression that she was programmed with her answers like a robot, along with the strict instruction not to deviate from them if she couldn’t answer the question. Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Thicky Nicky has just attacked May’s policy. She claimed that the concentration on selection would undermine six years of progressive education reform. Mike points out that her opposition to it is problematic, given how terrible she was at the job of education secretary. Is she opposed to it, because it’s even worse than her idea, is Mike’s entirely appropriate question here.

Thicky Nicky attacks May’s grammar school plans – for doing more harm than she managed?

In fact, this whole affair screams to me that May actually has no carefully thought out education policy. She wanted to have all schools transformed into academies, until that was shot down in flames. Now she wants them transformed into grammar schools. Or rather, they can apply to become grammar schools. Clearly, in line with Tory elitism, only a few will actually be allowed to become them, because you’ve got to have somewhere that’ll educate those not intelligent enough to get into the grammar schools. So something like ‘secondary moderns’ will come back, although they’ll be called ‘failing state schools’. Which they are at the moment. As for selection by ability, that was always on the cards with the Academies, as the author of one book against them I blogged about here revealed, The Great City Academy Fraud.

May doesn’t really have any policy for education, beyond the destruction of the state system. She just wants it handed over to private enterprise, just as much of it was before the introduction of comprehensives. The academies were the best guise for doing this, as they could be sold off to academy chains, while still remaining in theory state schools. And despite being elitist and selective, they weren’t as elitist and selective as grammar schools.

Now that’s gone, it looks like she just start fumbling around for any policy that would do the job, no matter how antiquated. And the first one to hand was the nostalgia of the British middle classes for grammar schools. She needed to announce a police quickly that would grab the public’s attention and make it sound like she was firm, determined and with a clear policy. Except that it shows that she doesn’t have one, except to grope back to the class-ridden past, because the class-ridden snobs that read the Torygraph and the Fail demand it. It’s another policy with no substance, except stupid, reactionary nostalgia. Which basically describes just about every policy and stance announced by Thatcher and her followers for the last thirty-odd years.

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.

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?’

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.