Saturday, 25 January 2014

Education not for Sale - Fighting against Academies and Free Schools

This afternoon's AGM of the Anti Academies Alliance brought together trade unionists and campaigners - including from successful campaigns like that at Snaresbrook School - to discuss the ongoing battle against the marketisation and privatisation of education in England. 

Dominic Byrne from Barking and Dagenham NUT reported on the ongoing campaign to prevent the forced academisation of Warren School. They have been boosted by their recent court victory, granting an injunction against the imposition of an Academy Order, for now blocking Gove's plans. Mr Justice Collins even declared that it "seems from reports that the present Secretary of State thinks academies are the cats whiskers - we know of course some of them are not" !

Ken Muller from Islington NUT reported on the strike action that will be starting next week at the STEM 6 Free School, in pursuit of the right to trade union recognition. This, and other campaigns, are reported on the Anti Academies Alliance website:

One of the main contributors to the discussion was Martin Johnson who, along with Warwick Mansell, is writing a report,  'Education Not For Sale', soon to be launched by the TUC, with accompanying leaflets to publicise the key arguments.

Martin - who I used to work alongside on the Joint Union Side Committee in Lewisham some years ago - pointed how edu-business giant Pearson had declared a profits warning as state budgets were being squeezed in the US. Pearson will be trying to cut costs further and shift their investment to emerging economies where they hope they can find parents willing to spend their incomes on their education schemes.

This was just one example of how education has become a global business, bolstered by the ideology of the GERM, the Global Education Reform Movement. As Martin pointed out, that ideology in favour of marketisation has been consistently backed by over twenty years of successive UK governments. They have focused on funding according to pupil numbers, data and league tables, supposedly to allow 'choice' and to feed the myth of 'differentiation between products'. 

To help artificially boost the market, Gove has now allowed Free Schools to expand, regardless of local need, to the increasing opposition of the Treasury. They are questioning the funding spent on the academies programme - particularly with no real evidence of their impact on educational quality - and now the money squandered on the opening of free schools in places where they are not needed. 

Martin pointed out that, while Gove may be pulling back from openly supporting direct  'for-profit' schools, there are plenty of opportunities for indirect profiteering such as through outsourcing, and by paying massive salaries to the Executives of the supposed 'charities' in charge of Academy chains.

The lessons from the US and Sweden are that marketisation does not improve education. However, it has certainly increased educational segregation and reduced the collaboration between schools that can help share good classroom practice and initiatives. Overall, in Martin's words, it has led to an 'impoverished view of education' where the narrow pursuit of league table position dominates over the genuine pursuit of a broad and balanced education that meets the needs of every child.

Everyone present will have left with ideas to develop their campaigns locally and, as I and others called for, to also develop a broader national campaign for education. I believe that a national demonstration, alongside trade union action, could play an important role in building that struggle to defend education from the hands of the privatisers and marketisers. The TUC materials being developed by Martin Johnson and Warwick Mansell should also help to explain to trade unionists and parents why this damaging 'GERM' has to be stopped.

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