New Internationalist

Privatizing schools is madness

Education policy in England and Wales descends deeper into the abyss with almost every passing day.

The chief inspector of schools has said: ‘If anyone says to you that “staff morale is at an all-time low”, you know you are doing something right’. The bullying once found only in the playground is now being actively promoted as the key attribute of a successful head teacher.

The education secretary Michael Gove, meanwhile, laments the dominance of privately educated people in key professions but the conclusion he draws from this is that teachers in state schools are not good enough. With analytical skills like that, you have to wonder about the deficiencies in his own education.

Let us for a few months swap state teachers – who cope with large class sizes, huge ranges of ability and inadequate infrastructure – with private school teachers in their privileged enclaves and then see who is considered ‘good enough’.

The programme to convert as many successful schools as possible into academies is being rolled out all over England and Wales – though without any apparent forethought.

The local comprehensive school here in East Oxford – the school my children went to – is currently debating whether to become an academy. Almost everybody involved in the process, including the governing body, is against the government’s academy programme on principle. There is a burgeoning, articulate and highly effective campaign among parents opposing the change in status. Yet many governors seem to be arguing that there is no alternative but to go with the tide.

The idea that this is privatization in all but name is no longer just a charge by leftwing critics but is being openly embraced. Schools are being overtly told to behave as and model themselves on businesses rather than public institutions.

They will be able to set their own pay scales and alter the terms and conditions of staff – which effectively sounds the death knell for collective national protection of those employees by trade unions. The announcement that Swindon’s flagship academy is seeking to shed 30 classroom assistants and six other support staff along with an unspecified number of teaching posts should be a salutary warning.

Academies will also be able to control their own admissions. In a society where schools are judged by their exam results, any individual school has a vested interest in refusing admission to students likely to be problematic in terms of behaviour or low in attainment.

In the absence of oversight by a local education authority, who will stand up for the most disadvantaged children if individual academies put their own ‘business interests’ before their social responsibility?

It is an experiment driven by ideology and bearing no relation to common sense. As with the privatization of the NHS, we are walking into a wilderness without realizing it – and it will, as ever, be the poorest and most vulnerable who will wind up stranded.

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  1. #1 fimble 17 May 12

    Thanks for this. Some clear sense about something that is being obfuscated and smothered in spin.

    Gove is destroying our education system, it IS privatization.

    I'm a teacher, I should know.

    Just like any doctor or nurse knows what they have done to the NHS.


    What will it take for people to get onto the streets in their hundreds of thousands? This government are destroying the country in front of our eyes and we sit at home?

    Howard Zinn was completely right: Mass civil disobedience is not the problem it's mass civil obedience.

  2. #2 Greg Smiles 20 May 12

    “Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to ensure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.” - Benjamin Disraeli, 1874

  3. #3 Alan 21 May 12

    Yes, what will it take to get people to wake up to what's really happening? Remember the Poll Tax riots? As important as that protest was what's happening now far outweighs it... we are seeing the rapid destruction of our public services, our welfare state. To be honest I'm beginning to despair. The Tories are getting away with murder (quite literally) and no-one seems to give a hoot.

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About the author

Chris Brazier a New Internationalist contributor

Once a writer for the rock music weekly Melody Maker (1977-80), Chris Brazier has been a co-editor of New Internationalist magazine since 1984. He has covered myriad subjects from masculinity to maternal mortality, Panafricanism to the paranormal, and has edited country issues on South Africa, Burkina Faso, Western Sahara, Bangladesh, Iran, China and Vietnam. He edits the country profile section of the magazine as well as its puzzle page. Since 2010 he has focused primarily on commissioning and editing New Internationalist’s books and other publications. He has also written regularly for UNICEF’s annual The State of the World’s Children report since 1997.

Chris is the author of Vietnam: The Price of Peace (Oxfam, 1992), The No-Nonsense Guide to World History (2001, 2006 & 2010) and Trigger Issues: Football (2007). He also compiled the New Internationalist anthologies Raging Against the Machine (2003) and Brief Histories of Almost Anything (2008).

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