Save the National Education Service

Written by Martin Dore, General Secretary of the SEA, this article, in a slightly fuller form, was originally posted on Labour List as part of their “Socialist Societies Day”

We are now in a real battle to preserve coherent and equitable provision of state education. Michael Gove should never be underestimated. He is a man with a very bad plan indeed. Despite his incompetence in a number of areas, e.g. over the ‘Building Schools for the Future’  debacle, he has been given free rein by a sympathetic press to espouse and implement his views on free schools and Academies.

Stephen Twigg has, refreshingly, called for an evidence based approach to education policy making and it is evidence that ultimately will be the undoing of Gove’s policies. The evidence demonstrates that Academies are not improving more rapidly than their remaining community comprehensive school counterparts. The widespread use of ‘gaming’ in the deployment of dubious vocational equivalences has led to widespread distortion of key GCSE indicators for hundreds of schools.

ATL General Secretary, Mary Bousted, recently pointed out the difficulties of highlighting the disadvantageous effect of social class on educational outcomes. As she said, ‘I contend that it is difficult for evidence-based education policy to have any traction in this country where the educational debate is so toxic and so polarized. Where to speak of the effect of poverty and inequality upon educational performance is to run the risk…of being accused of low expectations, of condoning failure.’

And Michael Gove has had the nerve and unbridled hypocrisy to accuse those on the left who oppose Academies of being happy with failure. But it is also free schools where the real ideological battle is taking place. Gove has recently allowed a for profit organisation to run a ‘free’ school in Suffolk. As they say,’ The Breckland Free School in Brandon, Suffolk, has awarded a £21 million contract to Swedish for-profit education company IES UK. The decision to appoint a for profit provider to run a ‘free’ school in Brandon, Suffolk, is a clear signpost of the direction of travel of Michael Gove’s ‘supply side revolution’. Privatisation and deregulation, not system wide school improvement, appear to be the destination. Whilst companies may not be allowed to make ‘profits’ this side of a general election, due to Liberal Democrat sensibilities, Gove’s real and admitted views are reflected in a new report from the Adam Smith Institute.

It believes that schools should be run for profits and has produced a report called ‘Profit Making Free Schools – unlocking the potential of England’s Proprietorial schools sector’ in which they look at the profits made by IES and the other major Swedish education company Kunskappskolan.

So education beyond 2015, unless the Tories are defeated, will become largely privatised with a minimal role for the state. Local Authorities are already on their way to becoming empty shells with no power to intervene when things go wrong. This is not being alarmist. This is the dysGovian reality. He wants every school to lose the influence of and accountability to the local community; he wants companies to run schools for profit; he wants Rupert Murdoch et al to introduce costly and profitable software programmes into each school; he wants teachers and other staff to lose their rights to union support and protection; he wants teachers and others to lose their national pay agreements – and so far he is getting his own way.

What can the left do? Well a broad alliance of like-minded groups fighting for the same broad cause is a tried and tested starting point. The SEA has already run a very successful and very well attended conference along these lines, working with CASE, Comprehensive Future and the AAA. We must build on that foundation to establish a broad coalition to save the National Education Service. We don’t have long before it will be too late.

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One Comment on “Save the National Education Service”

  1. trevor fisher says:

    I totally agree with this. ANd we might note that while even Andrew Adonis doesn’t want for profit schools, and has said so in the current New Stateman (16th March) Gove simply goes ahead exploiting loopholes for profit.

    At the moment despite useful work across the field, and the articles by Hasan and Melissa Benn in the same NS are excellent, we lack a co-ordinated response. Gove will have been in office two years on May 11th (according to David Cannadine’s new book on school history. I thought it was a little later) so a response on that date would be appropriate.

    How about a signed public statement from the great and the good rejecting his revolution? Then a follow up to work up a public campaign. At the moment the good work so many are doing is not going into the public arena in the way the health reforms did.

    The tory monthly Standpoint (March – in W H Smiths) has Gove on the cover, their big success story and a next Tory PM. How he got this far is deeply worrying. we need a much bigger popular front if we are to stop him.

    But Martin has hit the nail on the head. We do not have much time to get the counter to Gove on the public agenda.

    trevor fisher