A seminar, hosted by Ken Purchase MP and the Anti-Academies Alliance, held in Westminster last night focussed on the threat to education from the Swedish 'Free Schools' model favoured by the Tories.
A representative from the Swedish teachers' unions explained how these 'independent' schools - funded by the 'state' but increasingly run by large for-profit education companies - have opened up an educational divide in their country. Twenty years of research have shown that the schools do not improve quality, but increase costs and social segregation.
Professor Stephen Ball warned how this threat was the latest step in the break-up of state education alongside Academies, Trusts, and 'contracted out' schools like those already given over to education businesses to run in Surrey and Enfield. The 'free schools' are allowed to make profits, leeching money out of hard-pressed school budgets. To do so, multinational education businesses will want to grab hold of whole chains of schools to boost their profit margins.
I was a number of contributors from the audience who pointed to the danger of new schools being opened to meet roll pressures in London that, under Labour's 'competition' rules, would be run by private concerns, not Local Authorities. As spending cuts bite, these schools would look to cut costs by selecting those pupils that could achieve the best results for the minimum input. In other words, pupils with the greatest needs would find themselves pushed aside.
Local Authority schooling has been under attack from both the Tories and New Labour. The Liberal Democrats are now calling for 'sponsor managed schools' which are just Academies under another name.
Whoever wins the election, trade unions will face an even greater attack on comprehensive education. We have to respond.