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.