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Education: Fight Blair's 'market forces' solution
COMPREHENSIVE STATE education, a historic gain for working-class families, has been under attack for decades. Now New Labour threaten to let market forces tear apart all that remains of the idea of having a community of non-selective schools run by elected Local Education Authorities (LEAs).
In a future education "White Paper" Blair is expected to speed up the programme to introduce privately sponsored "academies" run independently of LEAs.
The ending of selection through the '11-plus' exam in most of the country ended the rigid segregation of children into "grammar" and "secondary modern" schools and began to narrow the gap between working-class and middle-class exam performance.
However, a series of initiatives have undermined comprehensive education. Exam league tables and the bullying OFSTED inspection regime encouraged schools to select either openly or secretly to boost their status compared to their neighbours.
But for every "winner", there is a "loser". The gap between schools at the top and bottom of the tables has widened. Without the funding they need to fully meet the needs of their communities, schools in working-class areas are usually the ones to struggle.
This fragmentation is made worse by new categories of schools outside the direction of LEAs.
The Tories introduced Grant Maintained Schools and City Technology Colleges. Now New Labour plan to set up around 200 academies by 2010.
Academies are the "Trojan Horses" of Labour's education policy. While many schools are starved of capital funds, an average of £25 million is thrown at individual academies to make sure they have state-of-the-art buildings and equipment. Blair then hopes to use academy successes to "prove" selection and privatisation are the way forward.
But Blair's spin can't hide the fact that academies have actually only had very mixed results. A highly critical report from a Commons Select Committee has questioned the money being spent and the powers given to sponsors that rarely have any background in education.
ACADEMY STATUS will help schools attract middle-class parents from neighbouring areas. But already some academies are using their "independence" to accelerate changes to the pupils they teach through high numbers of permanent exclusions. All this will be at the expense of nearby LEA schools.
Academies aren't about helping working-class communities. Blair aims to entice the wealthy back from private schools by reinforcing privilege and selection in state education. He wants to cut costs by doing away with LEAs and leaving schools largely to their own devices. His advisers hope that turning schools into unrestricted competitors will drive up standards overall.
But the free market always looks after the rich at the expense of the rest of us. The polarisation between schools will continue apace. Blair's vision is a dog-eat-dog system where schools compete for the most able pupils and the losers are left to sink - without the resources of a central LEA to hold on to for support.
Fearing a united challenge, Labour also want to set parents against teachers. Not content with publishing school-by-school exam tables, Education Minister Ruth Kelly now wants to publish individual teachers' and children's results so parents can identify "underperforming" staff!
This will make things worse. Instead of experienced staff being allocated to more challenging classes, teachers will demand to teach where results are easier to get. There will be more pressure to restrict education to narrow "teaching-to-the-test" to artificially increase SATs test scores at the expense of other areas of the curriculum.
Staff and students alike face being labelled as "failures" when the real culprits are the politicians who have undermined and underfunded education for decades. Instead of letting New Labour divide and rule, parents and teachers must unite to defeat their plans to dismantle comprehensive education.
In The Socialist 15 September 2005: