21/05/2016 by socialistfight
By Angela Wood, Labour activist
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan: Although the Tories have partially backed on their academies plan; they will no longer be forced academisation for successful state schools nonetheless the main thrust of the attack on state schools and local democracy continues.
Although the Tories have partially backed on their academies plan; they will no longer be forced academisation for successful state schools nonetheless the main thrust of the attack on state schools and local democracy continues. It was no accident that George Osborne announced the forced academisation of schools in his Budget of 16 March 2016. The attempt to force every primary and secondary school in England to become academies was part of the world-wide neo-liberal agenda. Like the attack on doctors’ employment conditions in the NHS, the aim is to drive down the rights and pay of teachers and open up the education ‘market’ to private competition in which all power is transferred to private companies, Multi Academy Trusts, and ultimately to the usual round of corporations such as Virgin, Serco etc.
It is a tragic truth that the academy programme, removing schools from local authority co-ordination and support, began in the office of the then Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in the late 1990s. David Blunkett, the then Secretary of State for Education, insisted that a clause permitting academies be inserted in the Queen’s speech telling stunned colleagues that ‘Tony has some rich friends who will invest in some schools’. Despite warnings from educationists and socialists that the academy route would eventually hand the Tories an easy way to privatise education, compliant local Labour councils were bribed with capital money to hand over some of their secondary schools- often schools in poor condition in working-class areas. Today Blunkett claims that this limited plan has nothing to do with the now abandoned Tory plans for every school, but as Michael Gove told Ed Balls in a TV debate before the 2010 General Election ‘we are going to take the best idea on education Labour ever had and offer it to all schools bringing in private finance, management and ownership’.
As so often, Blairism paved the way for a disastrous sell off of state assets and an end to public accountability.
The Tory plan was that all schools, including every primary school, would be an academy by 2022 with proposals in place before the next General Election in 2020. Governance of the schools would be handed to Multi Academy Trusts and, of course, parents would be stripped of their right to elect parent governors. The main thrust of that attack continues. As now the academy chains will be totally unaccountable to local communities with no right of schools to leave their sponsors. Only the Education Secretary will have the power to change academy ownership.
The proposal will transfer up to £70 billion of public assets including valuable land to the private sector. Although currently academies only lease this land there have already been attempts – such as one defeated in Newquay to sell £12m of land to Tesco – to breach these conditions. Clearly sell off of education public land and assets perfected under water privatisation etc. will follow in due course.
There will be no impact on education standards of these changes – academies are not performing better than existing state schools and, despite reluctance to challenge underperforming academies, even OFSTED is regularly reporting failures in academies. Nor will the test and data obsessed education system in England allow innovation in academies or even allow children to enjoy learning. Instead the Grad grinding of education with its uniforms, homework loads and stressful testing at least annually will accelerate to no benefit to children or students.
In order to soften up the cost profile of education for the market, pay and conditions for teachers will be under attack. Although some individual schools have staged campaigns against privatisation/academisation often supported by parents, all the teacher trade unions have generally sat back allowing 5,000 schools to transfer to academies. The teacher trade union leaderships have focused instead on signing deals with academy chains but as bullying management regimes are a feature of many of the chains speeding the exodus of teachers out of the profession, many ‘agreements ‘have proved worthless.
Finally the NUT, the most active and militant of the teacher trade unions (in a generally compliant sector), has woken to what the forced academisation will mean. With no local authority role and the exposure of education to the corporate neo-liberals, teacher conditions of pay and holidays will come under attack.
Building on the increased employment of unqualified teachers in schools, the whole notion of a qualified teacher may be abolished. Teacher working rights, currently set out in the ‘Burgundy Book’, will eventually disappear as corporate owners repeal maternity rights and other contractual rights to the bare legal minimum.
For all these reasons, public asset stripping, the takeover of schools by the ‘business’, the negative impact on pupils and the attack on parents’ rights and the destruction of employment rights leading to poorer and less motivated teachers and more leaving the profession everyone must welcome the decision of NUT Conference to force a strike ballot against the academisation proposals. The ballot for strike action in the first week of July must be supported and other trade unions – NAS/UWT and ATL pressured by their members to join in. We must demand that this proposals are carried through. The danger now is that teachers’ unions will present this partial back down as a total victory and will not fight the remaining pernicious parts of the Bill with and serious intent.
The July strike must be the beginning of sustained national strike action not a mere sop along the way to accepting academisation. ▲