The attack on education is political

The latest government Green Paper continues the attack on education, started many decades ago and yet to be halted by a united opposition.

If passed into law the Green Paper will allow for selection, faith schools to select up to 100% of pupils based on their faith, independent schools to ‘support’ state schools and universities to commit to sponsoring or setting up schools in return for the freedom to charge higher fees.

The key element is to reintroduce the secondary modern system as it should be called, as that is what it will be for up to 80% of children in areas where there is a grammar school. This is a political, not educational move and a clear indication that the right cares nothing for equality. They should beware – hatred of selection helped to bring them down in 1964.

The attack has always been political. It has involved the centralisation of education, the attack on the role of local councils to plan and support schools and the promotion of academies and free schools. The aim of this is to put schools in the hands of chains run in many cases by businesses – in other words the increasing privatisation of provision.

As a recent Dispatches revealed, plenty of money is being made by these chains to pay their top people and friends and relations who they employ to run services or do ‘consultancy’. The role of local authorities is to be reduced still further and councils have been cutting support services such as music centres, outdoor education, youth services and child protection, as a response to cuts in government grants.

The ultimate aim of successive governments has been to break down the unity of pay and conditions for teachers and with that the power of the teaching unions, long hated by the right. This will make schools more attractive to potential academy chains and subsequent privatisation. This is a similar tactic to the attacks on other public services including the NHS; make a system unworkable and privatise.

The onslaught has several facets. One is the old-fashioned way – making cuts. With schools currently facing 8% cuts to funding per pupil in real terms by 2020 the impact on staffing (including Teaching Assistants), resources, buildings and training will mean a substandard education for children. Funding for the 16 to 19 sector has already been massively slashed with real term cuts estimated at 14% and 1 in 3 colleges now believing they won’t be a going concern by 2020.

Another attack is on the training of teachers. The Conservative loathing of the so-called lefties in Universities has led to more and more school based training, such as School Direct, which in many cases is inferior, denigrates theory and puts a strain on staff who have to mentor students. Some schools have used students to cover timetable gaps. There has been a failure to recruit sufficient trainees, and this will lead to staff shortages for years to come. ‘The Department for Education,’ reported the Public Accounts Committee, ‘does not understand and shows little curiosity about the size and extent of teacher shortages … shows no sense of leadership or urgency’ and ‘is reactive and lacks coherence’.

At the same time we are losing teachers. In July 2016, the School Teachers’ Review Body (STRB) told the Government that an increase in teachers’ pay ‘significantly higher than 1%’ is required in order to recruit and retain enough teachers over the coming years. Despite this, the increase to the pay ranges for 2016-17 will remain capped at 1%. A survey published in October 2015 by the NUT and YouGov found that over half of all teachers were thinking of leaving teaching in the next two years citing ‘volume of workload’ (61%) and ‘seeking better work/life balance’ (57%) as the two top issues causing them to consider this.

Now we have plans to reintroduce the secondary modern system as it should be called, as that is what it will be for up to 80% of children in areas where there is a grammar school. This is a political, not educational move and a clear indication that the right cares nothing for equality. They should beware – hatred of selection helped to bring them down in 1964. Teachers will not want to work in secondary modern schools, or schools without sixth forms.

Unions, parents and governors have not yet been able to mount a sufficient and unified response to this attack. The unions have been hampered by their divisions, more at the top than in schools, where reps often work together. At last we have seen some progress as the NUT and ATL members discuss a merger this autumn. It will be important that this complex process does not impede urgent action to defend education.

Opposition can work, especially when it is partly from potential Tory voters. It is interesting that Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education has had to back down on plans to remove parent governors from governing bodies of academies. The Tories know where trouble can lie – they don’t want parents to be privy to the discussions of academy heads and chains. Governance in academies is already less democratic than in state schools, but this was a step too far.

Unfortunately the culture of competition has led to a reluctance of heads to speak out for fear of damaging their reputation. A recent article in the Guardian on the cut to grants for free school meals described how one head was raising money by doing a bike ride and another was making her teachers and TAs supervise lunch, a battle once won and now to be fought again. This is doing the government’s work for them.

Parents and governors need to work with teachers and heads against this Tory agenda. The grammar school issue will cause plenty of opposition. The NUT has produced a list of demands that all education campaigners can work around in their document Stand Up For Education – A Manifesto. This needs to be used as a campaigning tool. However, it is necessary to see the wider political reasons for the attack on education in schools to devise an effective strategy against it.


Stand Up For Education

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