The threat of schools’ privatisation – how to respond.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
David Cameron’s hugely undemocratic plan, unsurprisingly not in the Tory manifesto, to privatise everything, clearly represents a threat to schools and our children’s futures. It raises the spectre of Capita, Serco, Walmart, Lidl, Primark, or companies based in China, America, Singapore, the Cayman Islands or Liechtenstein taking over our schools. They would do this by undercutting the current cost, then reducing costs so that they can make a profit.

Class sizes will rise, teaching assistants will disappear, heating will be reduced, community links and activities will be removed. No more after-school clubs, no more breakfast clubs. IT equipment will not be replaced and senior staff made redundant with existing staff paid less. Inevitably our children’s education will suffer.

Judging by the policies already proposed by the government it is my opinion that, rather than improve education as it states, Messrs Cameron and Gove want to reduce the quality of education for the majority of children in this country. I have always maintained that it is not in the interests of the Tories and those they represent, to have a well-educated population. Our children will become the big losers in a race to the bottom.

On top of this, a school run by Serco, Capita or some shell company based in Liechtenstein will have no local democratic accountability at all. Parents will have little or no representation on the governing body; if indeed a governing body exists at all. Decisions will be taken hundreds or thousands of miles away based solely on the need to maximise profits for shareholders.

This is, in my opinion, the intended result of David Cameron’s “privatise everything” policy. Of course he wraps it up in the language of localism, people-power and accountability. Yet as we have already seen in the Education Bill, where Michael Gove is giving himself more than 50 new powers, including the power to remove local control of a school without the consent of local people, these words are simply window-dressing. Let’s face it they are not going to say; “our education policy is to reduce the cost of schooling and make it harder for the children of ordinary people to compete with our, privately-educated children” are they? Nor are they likely to say, “We just want an education system which produced barely-literate automatons to work in the local call-centre and in dead-end jobs which our children wouldn’t want to do.”

Some might object that these private companies will be paid on results, so this means that the schools will get better. The problem is that these companies will focus solely on their bottom line, which, in this case will be SAT scores or GCSE results. Everything else will go. Our children will be stuck in a system which, more than ever before, treats them as little more than potential As, Bs, Cs, level 4s etc. The needs of the individual child will be subordinated to the needs of the company to obtain higher grades. Education will be replaced with cramming, regimented, high-pressure rote learning of facts drilled into children, preparing them for nothing. And what is to stop these companies doing what plenty of other companies have done in other areas? Work flat-out to get one set of good results and get the bonus associated with it, and then have a few years bad results when they reduce costs to make a profit instead.

So what is the solution? Is this all inevitable? Should parents just roll over and allow dodgy multinational companies to ruin their children’s schools?

The response, apart from opposing these proposals, which it has to be stressed again, were in no-one’s manifesto before the election, the Local Schools Network and teacher unions need to get together and produce a package which will enable all schools to become parent-teacher buyouts, before profit-making companies and religious zealots get their dirty hands on them. Local Schools Network and the two main teacher unions could produce an off-the-peg constitution and business plan, which could be adapted to suit the needs of any local school. It would give parents the right to elect a majority of members of the governing body with most of the remaining membership being teachers, making schools truly parent-teacher cooperative ventures. They may want to co-opt representatives from local universities and businesses if appropriate.

The important thing is that this needs to be done quickly, before big business starts its takeover and dumps our children in perpetually declining sink schools over which we have no control.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 22/02/2011 - 18:38

I was suggesting something similar to Fiona and Melissa the other night about the idea of parent-teacher buy-outs. I can't really speak for them -- but they may be a little wary. There are big problems with entering into the market, because the moment you do, you do become a 'provider'. However, there is an argument that if you are a 'fair' provider, you are abiding by your principles, or maybe 'fair provider' is just an oxymoron. What does everyone else think?

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 09:32

The crucial point is that schools remain in the maintained state system and are not independent in the way that academies and free schools are. There are many ways that parents and teachers can influence their schools , and use different governance models while remaining maintained and part of the local family of schools. I think a lot of people who enter this debate may not fully understand what academy status really means. Schools are effectively 'given away'. Once they are out of the maintained sector, they can't come back and while the original sponsors or promoter groups may look benign, there is no guarantee that schools will remain in those hands indefinitely. Indeed I can easily see the circumstances in which some of the current stand alone academies fail ( mainly because governing bodies aren't properly assessing the long term costs and benefits) then get quickly put into private hands and effectively become beyond the reach of local people - if you don't believe that see this story pointing to concerns at the highest level in government that outsourced public services will become less, not more, transparent and accountable to their communities as a result of these policies.

Matthew McGee's picture
Tue, 22/02/2011 - 19:56

"Our children will be stuck in a system which, more than ever before, treats them as little more than potential As, Bs, Cs, level 4s etc." And of course, those children who are unlikely to achieve the As, Bs, and Cs that the private-sector profiteers are desperate for will be quietly disposed of, as some academies are already well-known for doing.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 13:51

Mr Cameron wishes to place all public services out to tender. However, he should take heed of the consequences of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). It was supposed to be a policy to harness private sector management and expertise in the delivery of public services, while reducing the impact on public borrowing of providing these services. In reality it's proved to be hugely expensive and our grandchildren will still be paying for PFI projects through their taxes for years to come. Which is why this Government's latest wheeze to let all public services be open for private tender is worrying.

Once a contract has been accepted, it cannot be rescinded. It would extend beyond the life of a Parliament and changes in local government. It would be the business and its shareholders who would decide priorities, not local people.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 15:34

I take your point Fiona about Academies and Free Schools. I'd be interested to know you thoughts on whether a group of parents can run a Free School/Academy fairly? ie make sure the LA runs admissions, doesn't suck away resources|? Or is just too late; the model just doesn't permit fair governance? I suppose the thing is we might be faced with the situation in a few years time that there are a great many Academies...

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 16:02

I am sure there will be some free schools that will try to ape the community school model, just have some academies have done , which makes you wonder why they needed to be 'free' in the first place. However I am opposed in principle to the idea of an 'independent' state schools. If schools are funded by the tax payer they should be open, accountable and subject to the same legal framework as other schools. As the Cabinet Secretary has apparently pointed out, outsourced public services are not obliged to operate by the same rules as services that remain within the public sector. They are bound by contracts that are often complicated, confidential, negotiated to suit the providers and difficult to enforce which is why in both health and education, over time, we will see these services being taken over by big chains and corporations that are better suited to this way of doing business. I think in the end we will see this process gradually remove power and autonomy from the local people and governors it is supposed to empower. So no , only interested in maintained schools. When they are finally eradicated, I will emigrate to Alberta!

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 17:31

One of Ed Balls better ideas was the co-operative trust school. This is based on the old' mutual' principle, so governance can be by a cross section of local parents, teachers, other members of the community who own the trust, but it remains a maintained school, gets its funding through the LA rather like a VA or foundation school, not via a contract, and is part of the local family of schools. There is no reason why a parent group , where there is a need for a new school, couldn't ask to set up a co-operative trust. If that was the will of the local parents I am not sure how Gove could refuse.
Actually I am not as despondent as some others about this. I think numbers of free schools will barely top double figures by the end of this Parliament and at the current rate, it will take at least 60 years to convert every school to an academy. Once governors realise that the bribes are fizzling out and the cost benefit analysis isn't quite as it seemed at the start, I think numbers of academy applications will drop off too. So there will still be a critical mass of maintained schools in five years time and with a bit of luck a different government that recognises 'diversity' doesn't just mean one model - an academy or an academy called a free school.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 19:11

Thanks Fiona, both of these posts are very useful. Perhaps giving parents more information about the co-operative trust option might help them if they are faced with an ultimatum they can't refuse. Or perhaps it's a question of drawing together all the disparate groups involved to protest collectively about the injustice that's going on.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Wed, 23/02/2011 - 22:47

Yes to more information on the co-operative trusts please - it has been mentioned tonight at one of our meetings in Louth and I am curious as to whether it could fit onto the agenda for one of the smaller schools concerned.

Jon O'Connor's picture
Sun, 13/03/2011 - 09:55

I work as one of a small team of education advisers supporting the development of a national network of Co-operative school trusts - we're heading rapidly towards 250 in number, making it the fastest growing education movement in the country.
This link gives more info:

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