It was another old Etonian and Tory Prime Minister who in 1902 decided to risk the anger of Leeds people by abolishing the school boards. Balfour was determined to preserve the best of the Victorian public and grammar schools and to ensure that the Church of England had a central role in our education system. Here the school uniform,team games, a house system, the daily act of worship and regular testing became the model for the nation. Streaming like modern kitchens was imported from the German system. Failure to conform by children led to punishment. Eventually the 11 plus further separated our children. In the schools the curriculum was dominated by a traditional and narrow set of subjects or syllabi for basics skills. Facts which have to be committed to memory and teaching through talk and chalk dominated work in the classroom. There was a significant reaction to this in the 1930s. We now agree we all need a good education. It is a basic human right and essential if we are to have a successful economy.
Britain is an archaic society. We love old old things and celebrate our traditions.
Like cricket on the village green, the FA cup final and, trooping the colour when the British imagination hears the word education it is the world of Tom Brown we conjure up.
Real education must have spelling tests, learning your tables by rote, phonics,
Essential English grammar. Seemingly if we do not immerse our children in all of this they fail.
Now all of this is to be permanently imposed on our schools. Schools will in reality become private companies. They are supposed to have control over their own curriculum. However it is the Government targets which they have to meet.These targets reflect the Government’s ideology. They are imposed on the schools without any reference to research and independent trials. They might be good ideas but they are only ideas.White papers usually have a supportive appendix of evidence.
No appendix is included in the current Education White Paper.
No appendix as there is no evidence.
Education is to be both privatised and marketised. Multi academy trusts are on the way.
We will no longer have our LEA.
Given this situation excellent investigative journalism has identified the many alleged excesses associated with academies. These are denied but the evidence base now suggests that academisation is not without challenges. We read about fraud, gaming of exam results, excessive salaries, redrawing catchments to exclude particular areas, secret second salaries for head teachers, some children disappearing from school roles as they will not succeed in their exams and consequently the school will drop down the league tables. Many MATs have themselves set up companies which are profit making and are directly or indirectly linked to academy interests. Everything from educational advice to property maintenance. In this jungle opportunities for overcharging could be commonplace and corruption might become endemic.
Teachers face a professional and personal nightmare with evidence of bullying already emerging in staff turnover figures in academies. Here all the good practice to protect employment rights and professional development opportunities will go. All conditions of service negotiated since 1944 will be abandoned. Academies freed up to have control over salaries will seek to reduce pay as cuts bite. Pay will be performance related with core subjects earning the most rewards.Increments will be rationed at best. A national pay scheme and national pay settlements will disappear and the viability of the pensions scheme will be threatened. Here already privatised teacher’s pensions will be reformed and benefits reduced to bring them into line with the poor value pensions offered by the stock market. This on the grounds of affordability. No strike clauses and gagging clauses evident now in some academies will become a commonplace. Here a culture of secrecy which will be difficult to scrutinise will develop.
Ofsted report not on what is a good school but to what extent the school meets government targets. Meet the targets and you are outstanding fail to meet them and you are inadequate.This is central control not freedom for schools to develop.
Here Whitehall will be in charge and the freedom enjoyed under the local authorities will go.
In no other county in our world is this model influential and most countries do better than us in the international tests.We languish in the league tables behind Vietnam and way behind Finland.
Sweden’s dramatic fall in the tables could be explained by their obsession with free schools.
Privatisation means abandonment of the public service ethos which has been central to the commitment of our teachers for over a century. Parents are to become customers. It is marketisation which has seen the growth of gaming. Yes if schools break the law then they should be called to account. Gaming is a consequence of the model at the heart of conservative education policy. Cameron and Michael Gove have created a situation where excesses flourish and unfairness is obvious. We should not blame the academies themselves. There are good and outstanding academies and inadequate ones. Like businesses everywhere academies are simply playing the market through gaming the system. Michael Gove recognises this and he has tried to limit gaming. Under the current market he cannot prevent it. This is how markets behave Michael!
Academies are inevitably self serving.They will always act in their own interest.
They cannot be concerned with common good as they struggle to attract business and funding
Their main focus is to be league champions. Their purpose is to win the league and not to help the strugglers improve. Multi academy trusts are in business themselves and they can only grow if other schools fail.We now face a bizarre situation where trusts will actually want to see competitor schools fail so they themselves can grow.We now know that privatisation and markets can work in some contexts but concerns about railways, energy and recently steel suggest that public ownership is more appropriate in other aspects of national life.
Are we all in it together? No we will be divided and isolated by this.
We should learn from the Chief Inspector and recognise that academisation does not necessarily raise standards. All types of school can both pass and fail Ofsted. He is supported by the select committee who say it is far too early to consider the academy programme as being responsible for raising standards.If your child is in a good school academy status is not the key variable. The way it is led and managed is more significant.
In 1903 a programme of passive resistance grew among the non conformists who then had their own schools. It was supported by the emerging Labour Party.
The passive resistors objected to the new education rate. They refused to pay for their children to be educated in a religious code in which they did not believe.Many Methodists were jailed for non payment. In September 1903 over one hundred thousand people gathered on Woodhouse Moor to object. Here the people were addressed with the same motion from five separate platforms and a bugle sounded when the motion was passed with an overwhelming majority. A march then descended on Leeds with banners, bands and representatives from schools across the county to protest against this act. Liberal Lloyd George promised to speak but did not turn up. This was the largest ever political demonstration in our city.
It reflected a concern for education and a recognition that education was central to a successful life. Here was the hope that many people would not have to face becoming factory slaves.
The attendance demonstrated that for Yorkshire people education must be free, universal and promote social justice through being fair. It should cater for all beliefs. Here education for children was a fundamental right . This was education owned by Leeds people, organised and administered by Leeds people in the interests of all Leeds people and subject to a free and fair democratic process for which so many had struggled in Victorian times. Fundamentally it belonged to the people. They had control though the ballot box and a right to say what happened for their children.
Today another Eton educated Tory threatens to privatise all our schools which have chosen not to be academies. All our schools be they outstanding or good are now to be academies.
Leeds families are now threatened by a unique period of turmoil as control passes from our elected council to the private businesses known as multi academy trusts. Here our mainly outstanding and good schools will be closed and later reopened as academies. This will happen simply because the Government seems to think it’s a good idea. Parents are to be excluded in favour of experts. Corporate governance will be weakened, local accountability will disappear and the democratic rights of Leeds people to have a say in the education of their children will be abolished. We should take courage here to object like those passive resistors in 1903.
We are being duped as schooling is simply handed over to the private sector on the off chance that this will benefit our children? All our education assets will be stripped and given away to the private sector. No compensation will be paid to a city that needs the money to look after its elderly. This is a potential large scale experiment with our children’s future which is not happening anywhere else on the planet. Even the academies do not want this as the Harris chain have made clear.They are concerned with real problems like the complete failure to staff the schools.
Before our children have to queue to pay the equivalent of the daily Victorian penny when the money runs out as it has in our NHS. Before some US multinational inherits our educational real estate and assets and strips them to a bank in Panama. Before we are confused and bombarded through endless cold calling for dodgy deals concerning our children’s futures we need to save state education from the privateers who put personal profit before our children’s needs. We must keep our local authority to develop a response to under achievement in all schools and raise standards for all.We know this works and unlike academisation we have the evidence to prove it.
Former Principal Lecturer and education scheme leader at Leeds Metropolitan University.