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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 June 2010

No to privatised academies

Defend public education

THE NEW government has put the whole future of comprehensive state education under threat.

Martin Powell-Davies, NUT executive (personal capacity)

Education secretary Michael Gove is rushing an Academies Bill through parliament at such a rapid speed that hundreds more schools could become privatised academies by September. And that could just be the start of a complete break-up of democratically controlled local authority schooling.

New Labour introduced academies as state-funded schools that are run outside local authority control. About 200 have been set up, handed over to religious and business sponsors who wanted to exert influence on education - and expand their commercial empires too.

Their supporters argue that creating a 'market' of competing schools will 'raise standards'. There is no real evidence that academies have improved education but clear signs that they have started to undermine comprehensive provision through being given control over their admissions and exclusions policies.

As a 'Whitehall source' told the Guardian soon after the coalition was formed, these plans are "about getting local authorities out of the picture".

They are intended to turn the creeping part-privatisation of education under Labour into a full-blown dismantling of a planned state education system. Education will be stolen from local control and handed to education profiteers to run as chains of privatised schools.

'Winners and losers'

Despite all the attempts over the years to privatise and divide through 'local management of schools', 'academies' and 'trusts' and so on, most areas still retain a locally co-ordinated system of community schools, accountable to an elected council that can plan admissions and provide central support to try and meet the needs of all pupils.

Gove's plans would create a chaotic system of competing schools. Of course that market would create 'winners and losers' - and it would be predominantly working-class and black pupils that are likely to lose out. It would become a privatised, selective system against a background of spending cuts.

Academies would seek to select the students that can produce the highest results for the cheapest input - leaving cash-starved local authorities to support those with the greatest needs.

Gove's decision to immediately invite all schools deemed 'outstanding' by Ofsted to take a fast-track to academy status shows what the government has in mind. They want to create a 'two-tier' system where local authorities are left with the schools teaching the youth who are written off by the government as having little prospect beyond low pay and unemployment.

In case encouragement was needed, Gove has said that academies' budgets will be boosted by 10% or so compared to community schools. This will be money previously paid to local authorities to provide shared services. Of course, this is no real gain for an academy if those services are still to be provided - although it might boost the profits of a private provider.

Fast track

These privatisation plans are also designed to permanently remove the threat of the national trade union action that could seriously challenge a government intent on driving through massive cuts. By dividing schools into a series of different academy employers, all able to set their own contracts, then national pay and conditions arrangements will be torn apart.

The new legislation would even outlaw the sham 'consultations' set up by New Labour that at least allowed local campaigns some limited time to oppose academy plans.

The Academies Bill proposes that school governors can just take a simple vote without any consultation with parents, staff or the community. The Department for Education website sets down a timetable that would allow schools to move from 'registering an interest,' to becoming an academy in just three months!

Teaching unions have to move quickly to make clear that we aren't going to accept these attacks. It is welcome that the general secretaries of the teaching unions NUT, Nasuwt and ATL, together with Unison, have written jointly to schools, opposing Gove's plans. But wider action drawing on the combined strength of all these unions is also vital.

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