Blair’s New Labour principles have conveniently provided a starting point for the new education law the Tories’ have rushed through parliament. This is intended to lead to a dramatic acceleration of the academies programme, starting with schools judged ‘outstanding’ by the schools inspectorate, Ofsted.
The ‘best’ schools, once changed to academies, will inevitably become more selective, available to a minority of children only, while the majority of working class children will go to ‘sink’ schools. We can also expect a wave of permanent exclusions over the next academic year, because the academies will retain the funds of excluded students rather than the other schools or local authority establishments that will take these students.
Academies will have appointed governors and will therefore have no democratic accountability to local communities. The Tories are tempting only outstanding schools at the present, but in time they will no doubt introduce incentives – paid for by cuts to state schools – and, finally, legislation to coerce change.
There will be no regular scrutiny by Ofsted, unless their exam results nose-dive. Academies will be free to undermine the national pay and conditions of teachers and support staff, perhaps giving the odd bonus to an axe-wielding head teacher, hiding behind the fact that the Freedom of Information Act does not apply to them.
The Tories’ policy of so-called ‘Free Schools’ is another means to push education towards a two-tier, privatised system. The proposal, linked to the drive to turn schools into academies, is intended to drive down and eventually eliminate altogether the role of locally-elected education authorities, replacing them with an education system based on private profit-making companies.
The carefully-fostered image of local ‘groups of parents’ setting up schools is a publicity smokescreen to hide the real intention of bringing in private education consultancy firms. There are already indications that when parents have approached the Department of Education to set up local authority-based schools, they are given short shrift.
At the core of Michael Gove’s policy on ‘free schools’ is an organisation called the ‘New Schools Network’ which has been awarded £500,000 by the Tory minister to provide services to anyone interested in setting up a free school. Surprise, surprise, the NSN – a “charity” established only very recently – is run by a former adviser to Michael Gove, one Rachel Wolf. Having been set up as a charity, the NSN, by Wolf’s admission, has already attracted many donations.
There are no prizes for guessing the character of the political and private organisations who will be giving money to the NSN and who are now exercising their right to remain anonymous!
This blatant piece of cronyism is reinforced by the Department for Education’s website which told those interested in setting up a free school that they “must contact the New Schools Network to discuss their ideas." The official guidance went on to make it clear that unsatisfactory applications would be referred back to the NSN. So, in other words, if you want a local authority school, forget it!
Having been given government backing, the NSN, according to its director, is likely to increase its staff to around 12 to 16 people. With this special patronage of the DfE, this is equivalent to a party-political arm of the civil service, set up exclusively to undermine the school system run by locally elected authorities.