A discussion document put forward by the Department for Children, Schools and Families proposes requiring schools to maintain records of various non-academic social measures including teenage pregnancy rates, criminal records, obesity levels, drug problems, bullying and neglect, in order that these records may be used by Ofsted inspectors as criteria for rating schools (in addition to existing criteria such as exam results and exclusion rates).
According to The Guardian of 30 April: “The measures could be implemented by Ofsted from 2009, and suggest that schools would become broadly responsible for children’s safety, enjoyment and happiness.” (‘Schools may be judged on teenage pregnancy rates and drug problems’ by Anthea Lipsett)
In his excellent book School Report, Nick Davies writes: “Research has shown consistently that at least 85 percent of the variation in children’s achievement is due to factors external to the school, and when it comes to other aspects of children’s lives their hold is even more tenuous.”
The most important determinant of academic success in Britain is class. Middle-class kids from educated families in well-to-do neighbourhoods are far more likely to succeed at school than the 30 percent of their contemporaries who live on or below the poverty line. Nonetheless, government education policymakers have invariably placed the blame for academic failure with teachers and heads.
Now they plan to lay the blame for all social ills with teachers and heads! Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, commented: “We are concerned about the extent to which schools are held accountable for all the ills of society. It’s become quite ridiculous … If this is going to be yet another collection of data to beat schools over the head with this will be a worse than useless measure.” (Cited in ibid)
The proposal is typical New Labour smoke-and-mirrors propaganda. They are presiding over the dismantling of the welfare state; they come up with every cunning means of channelling funds away from the schools in poor areas (which are secondary moderns in all but name) and towards the schools in middle-class areas (which are grammar schools in all but name); they continue Kenneth Baker’s break-up of the comprehensive system, publication of league tables and selection by estate agent; they force schools in impoverished areas to scramble for funding, resulting in the closure of any services deemed non-essential (such as, for example, extra resources to deal with children from troubled backgrounds); and they have the audacity to claim that the problem with schools is that teachers aren’t sufficiently motivated and heads aren’t sufficiently ‘dynamic’!
Such hypocritical cant must be exposed. Teachers are not to blame for child poverty or for the funding drought in schools; capitalism is. We must demand an end to the destruction of the comprehensive system; we must demand a huge increase in schools’ funding; and we must fight for socialism, so that all children are freed from the scourge of poverty and are given the right to a high-quality education focussed on the development of intelligent, well-rounded human beings rather than on the production of unthinking wage slaves and consumers.
The fight against the government’s programme of city academies continues. On 8 May, teachers at the Withins School in Bolton went on strike in protest against plans to turn it into a privately funded city academy. According to the Bolton Evening News, “parents of pupils at the school said they supported the teachers’ actions and that the school should be given cash without going down the academy route.”
Similarly, teachers at the Sinfin Community School in Derby are planning to take strike action over plans to turn it into an academy. In St Helens, hundreds of pupils of St Aelreds Catholic Technology College staged a walk-out in protest at plans to merge with Newton High School, creating a new Academy.
Meanwhile, in Barrow, Cumbria, campaigners against a proposed new academy school have demonstrated the level of public disdain for city academies by standing in local elections under the umbrella name Our Schools Are Not For Sale.
Of the five candidates, four were elected, including Mike Stephenson, who won the most overall votes, thus becoming council leader. Roger Titcombe, a retired head teacher who used to run one of the schools the academy could replace, commented: “This has been an election like no other, with the academy and the linked threats to our primary schools the main concern of voters. Our campaign has revealed overwhelming opposition to the academy plan throughout the borough.”
The city academies are the supposed crowning glory of the Blairite education agenda, ostensibly aimed at turning round failing schools by attracting private funding. According to Tony Blair, “an external sponsor … brings not only a financial endowment but also vision, commitment, and a record of success from outside the state school system”.
These schools are controlled by private sponsors (who own the land and premises, through a trust). They are outside the local authority system, and they have no obligation to operate national pay and conditions agreements. They are given large wads of cash by the government to be used for new buildings (this is usually wasteful, since existing buildings can usually be repaired and improved, but it is consistent with the policy of getting taxpayers’ money into the hands of private companies).
The private sponsor is allowed a majority on the board of governors, and this control is used to tweak the curriculum towards the needs of the sponsor.
The Anti-Academies Alliance reports: “It is no coincidence that the specialism the majority of [business sponsors] favour is ‘business and enterprise’. But the government’s 14-19 agenda takes this much further, enabling local employers to use Academies from age 14 as training schools for the future workforce of the local economy, at the expense of a broad and balanced education …” (antiacademies.org.uk)
Various religious organisations have become city academy sponsors. Again quoting the Anti-Academies Alliance: “This raises concerns about sponsors using their position to exercise religious influence – not just the handful of fundamentalist Christians like Vardy and Edmiston who advocate creationism but the large number of schools sponsored by other religious organisations, including the Anglican church, which are using Academies as a backdoor way of getting more ‘faith’ schools.”
City academies are opposed by the NUT and the NASUWT. We must join the calls of teachers, parents and pupils for an end to the academies system and for a return to comprehensive education.