A packed Conference hosted by the Campaign for State Education in London yesterday heard an excellent range of contributions setting out the key arguments to combat Michael Gove's attempts to rip apart comprehensive local authority schooling. It's now vital that trade unionists and campaigners use those facts and ideas to build against academies and free schools in every community.
Melissa Benn called on Ed Milliband to stop being ashamed of the 'c-word' and visit Alberta in Canada to see how comprehensive education succeeds. (see my review of her 'School Wars' book below
But it was Clyde Chitty who gently chided Melissa for expecting New Labour to seriously oppose the Con-Dem's attacks. After all, he explained, Blair had outrageously described comprehensive education as 'academic vandalism' in his autobiography. Gove was merely taking New Labour's 'reforms' to their logical conclusion.
Contributing briefly from the floor, I took the opportunity to place these attacks in their economic context and to remind the meeting of the civil servant quoted in Clyde Chitty's 1997 book explaining that, once the post-war boom was over, we had to again educate children to 'know their place'. I asked whether trade unionists and anti-privatisation campaigners shouldn't now be standing independently in elections just like the independent labour candidates who stood in the School Board elections referred to in Melissa Benn's book? For the generally older audience at this conference, many of whom from a Labour Party tradition, the suggestion that we can no longer rely on Labour, whose leadership are firmly wedded to the neo-liberal agenda of cuts and privatisation, is still hard to accept. However, it is a break that I believe they will have to take.
Other contributors added important information. Barrister David Wolfe explained how each Academy is established under a different 'Funding Agreement', written without scrutiny as a contract with the Secretary of State - the one school 'GOVE-erner' as another contributor put it. Christine Blower from the NUT outlined the international evidence from Sweden and the USA exposing how privatisation leads to worse results and increasing segregation and class polarisation between schools.
Professor Stephen Ball exposed the big edu-businesses taking hold of education in Britain and internationally but it was a reference from Martin Johnson from the ATL that summed-up the money-grabbing attitude of these vultures. Martin quoted from a letter released to the Stock Exchange last week from Wey Education plc, a company headed by Zenna Atkins, ex-Chair of Ofsted. The words speak for themselves:
‘The Company will concentrate on becoming a leading education company focusing on providing a single solution to schools. Wey is responding to the English market opportunity brought about by the transfer of state-run schools to independent charitable entities and the deconstruction of the education function within local authorities. Within the 53 billion pound English education system, the standards achieved by pupils and the rounded quality of the education they receive need to be significantly improved. Additionally the evidential efficiencies that can be made in the operation of schools combine to make a clear opportunity to make a substantial return to investors and improve education in the UK.’ http://www.plus-sx.com/newsItem.html;jsessionid=892A1DFA509EAFD196F7D34A7527718F?newsId=1403538
But you can only make a 'substantial return to investors' at the expense of pupils' education and staff pay and conditions. We have to expose these vultures and Gove's real intentions and fight to defend, and extend, genuine comprehensive education for all.