Gove is on the same (ideological) page as Lansley when it comes to academies and education "reform"

Helen Flynn's picture
I believe that what is happening right under our noses now in education (and as mapped out in the current education bill going through Parliament) is just as toxic as the issues that are at stake in Lansley's health bill. In fact as Peter Wilby's article in the New Statesman today points out, Gove, just as Lansley is doing, is aiming to turn an entire public service upside down.

Here is a telling extract from Wilby's article: "Gove's vision for our schools has a degree of continuity with the policies of previous administrations, both Conservative and Labour. At their heart lies a project that central government has quietly pursued for nearly 25 years: the removal of English education from the control of local councils."

The Lib Dems have been tossed the fig leaf of the pupil premium as a cover and a sop, whilst the Conservatives get on with the big job of dismantling locally accountable state education. They are making it easy for private providers to generate and run chains of schools (and they can do so, with powers centralised to Gove through the education bill now going through Parliament, so that he can intervene and close schools down, then hand them on to companies). Meanwhile, as well as the current one-year bribe to get schools to switch to academy status, existing academies are being handed extra capital sums, even as I write this. This despite the fact that loads of local community schools have had their capital programmes cancelled through the abandonment of the BSF scheme. (And for a government apparently hell-bent on reducing the deficit, the £800 million new building schemes for academies programme announced by Gove this month, is not a long way behind Labour's £1 billion BSF programme, really, is it?)

There seems little doubt--at the current rate of conversion--that all secondary schools will become academies by 2015. I know from speaking to heads that many of them are converting just because they feel they will get left behind it they don't--rather than actively wanting to be an academy. What will happen to primary schools, is they will form in clusters under single academies or academy chains, and become part of an overarching academy trust. So that's the future.

It is no longer good enough for Lib Dems to crow about the pupil premium, when our whole system is being dismantled and rebuilt to accommodate and encourage private suppliers, and to centralise all power in Michael Gove--away from local areas. What is particularly and spectacularly bad about this overall, however, and despite the rhetoric to the contrary, is that children's quality of education seems to be an afterthought in a programme driven by structural reform that is not bound ( or proven by a staggering amount of evidence) to create an ounce of difference to educational standards.

Whilst it is good that there is so much debate about the health bill, we seem to be completely ignoring what is going on in education--much of which is remarkably similar to the NHS proposals. And most--if not all-- of it stemming from ideology, rather than evidence.
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Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 27/05/2011 - 22:20

Agree Helen but thought you might like to know that I have heard of two schools today where the governing bodies have just voted against academy status. The initial motivation in both cases was money, and there are fears that the early 'bribes' will not be sustained and the future will be insecure. This is especially true for primary schools where governors are starting to realise that they could eventually be swept up into chains as a result of a decision to convert.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 06:56

I totally agree Fiona.
As long as the case for and against academy status is made and made well, there is every reason to be hopeful about the future for local authorities.
Fiona - could you please send me any details you have about those schools? It is always wonderful when I can share good news stories with the group in Louth.
Many thanks

Melissa Benn's picture
Sun, 29/05/2011 - 09:24

Four things Helen.

Firstly, there HAS been a lot of unease expressed, and protests mounted, at what is happening in education - but for a number of reasons, the political/media leaders seem able to marginalise and dismiss it. I think this relates to what has happened to the teaching force over time - unlike doctors and nurses, who are accorded a special status, and considered politically neutral in some way, teachers have been reduced to technicians in many respects by overweening central government over the past 25 years and/or treated as over politicised and therefore untrustworthy in terms of their opinions of their own profession. This mean, in effect, when doctors and nurses speak out against government driven ideological change, the government have to 'pause' and re-group. When teachers speak out, as they have been - see latest surveys on widespread unease within the profession on the consequences of government policy - the government find it easy to ride rough shod over their views.

Secondly, the government have been able to present the changes in education as essentially egalitarian and progressive. The Obamas visit, sadly, gave them further opportunity to do so. Note the careful publicity for the academy programme during the Obama/Cameron table tennis game.

Thirdly, our school system is such a mess, and so complex, that few people can begin to unravel the various strands of policy, nor dig out what is really happening - in terms of the shifting of capital resources and massive political favouritism accorded to academies and free schools - and grasp that education policy as currently envisaged is far from progressive.

Finally, you are right, the pupil premium hardly outweighs the enormous changes that are being set in train. This means that the Lib Dems have an important role to play - right now - in speaking up, and organising, against all these changes before it is too late. If Clegg and co are now moving into action on the health bill, why are they not doing the same on education?

Helen Flynn's picture
Thu, 02/06/2011 - 19:58

Well said, Melissa, and I take your comments on board.

I am trying hard to drive education up the agenda within the Lib Dems, believe me, and make people realise we need to be fighting on two fronts over similar ideological issues.

But I think one of the sad and major differences between health and education, is that because of the Thatcher legacy of self interest, and resultant policies around parental choice, etc, people only value education when they are consumers of it, and lose interest when their children have left it. As such education is rarely truly accorded the status of a whole "societal good", which it should have, as it can transform not just individual's lives, but actually move the whole of society on. The fact is that everyone in our society should be interested in education, not just parents.

Health, on the other hand, will always affect everyone--again largely as it seen through the lens of each person's own experience of it (harking back to self interest) and perceived individual right to have access to it. Therefore there will always be so much more interest in the NHS, than education, sadly. That's why people like us have to do whatever we can to raise its profile at any occasion, though sometimes it seems like a relentless and unproductive path......

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