Archive for the ‘education’ Category

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

Brenda says…

Brenda is just an ordinary woman in Bristol. She was questioned on the street by a BBC journalist and she said that she was fed up with politics – there is too much of it about at the moment – and she just wanted to live her life in peace. That is a bit of a paraphrase, but only a bit.

Let me be clear, I do not want an election. What is the point in a fixed-term parliament if an insecure Prime Minister decides that she needs a personal mandate for her mendacity and push for majoritarianism and the limited state? However, if we are going to have one – precipitated to some extent by the EU’s interregnum over exit terms – then so be it. But this is no ordinary election. I’m 53 and I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. We can let the Conservative Party for the foreseable future dominate the executive and legislature (not to say judiciary if recent experience is anything to go by) or we can stand up for something bigger.

This is not a party-political election in the normal sense. Notwithstanding Brexit, this is an election to stand up for public services, the NHS, education, housing, social care, the environment, liberty and decency. All of these things the Conservative Party seem to be willing to denude or abolish in pursuit of power. Not the public good.

This will be an ugly island if May achieves her aim. All opposition parties have to work together on this one. This is not about Labour, LibDems, SNP, Green. This is about a future. Brenda needs to engage, vote and learn.

End.

 

The concerted attempts to destroy the post-war consensus in the UK

The UK at the moment is in a mess.

Daily I am subject to the effects of ongoing industrial action by two transport unions – one for train drivers, one for (what we used to call) guards. It being awp-1484414323498.jpg privatised and fragmented railway network, this is happening in a single region, and hence the effects are localised. The objective for the railway workers is to run the trains safely (drivers have recently been given total responsibility for safety on trains, over-and-above the driving, which they argue is not safe). The same unions are in dispute with Transport for London over safety and staffing on the London Underground.

Last week it was the turn of the National Health Service. People are dying waiting to get into a hospital. The Government is now blaming General Practitioners, the primary carers. Seemingly because they do not provide a 7-day service, too many people are going to the emergency departments in hospitals at weekends and evenings.

Then there is my own profession, university teaching. The Government’s priority is to push ahead with a bill that uct_leslie_social_science_lecture_theatre_classenables private companies to award degrees and add further metrics to the practice of teaching. This progressively turns teaching into a proscriptive exercise rather than a learning experience. The arrival of private companies, it is argued, will provide choice in the ‘education market’ (as if there are not enough universities to provide choice) and innovate.

My take is this. With respect to the railway disputes, this is a Government that wants to impose new working conditions on railway workers that have the potential to make travel less safe. We have seen this before at privatisation, It can be deadly.

With regard to universities, the advent of 9000 pound fees per year changed the relationship between teaching staff and students. The fees effectively commodified learning and universities have been complicit in this. Private companies such as the large publishing houses want to control content and merge their content production with delivery. This will squeeze out any critical thinking.

Euro_flag_yellow_lowAs we have seen with Brexit, all is not what it seems. The Conservatives, with hindsight, were always Eurosceptic. They never embraced membership or tried to change it from within.  The incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, simply sees it as an opportunity. The opportunity to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and to control border (something that she failed to achieve as home minister in the Cameron Government). The mandate from the referendum is there, even if the damage done to the economy is significant. This is not about the economy, it is about nationalism.

And not unrelated is the situation with the National Health Service. It is the ultimate outcome of  a postwar rejection of conservatism. A majority Labour Government in 1948 enacted legislation to enable healthcare to be provided free at the point of use. The UK conservatives see now their opportunity to end this once and for all. They have prnhsogressively been privatising it with many familiar private-sector firms cherry picking services (leaving the public sector with the difficult stuff like geriatric care and chronic illness). Now, the crisis that has erupted in recent weeks with Accident and Emergency services struggling, the blame has been put on General Practitioners who are opposing 7-day working. It is reported today that some are indicating their intention to leave the National Health Service. On the one hand, this looks like something that the Government cannot ignore. On the other hand, maybe it is just what they are looking for in order to introduce an insurance system?

Pictures: A lecture in progress in Leslie Soc-Sci building in theatre 2A. Discott 

More on privatising schools by stealth

NickyH&SJan10A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on the UK government’s assault on schools in forcibly converting them into Academies and then, by default, passing them, their assets and their curricula over to the private sector. Seemingly, there has been a lot of opposition to this, not least from local authorities whose schools they are. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary (left) for England told the UK Parliament on Monday that she is listening. So the new idea is to force schools to be academies, but for local authorities to manage chains of academies. Best of both worlds, it seems?

Hang on a minute. One of the objections was cost. Conversion costs money. So far, £32.5m has been spent on conversion. Another £100m is required to finish the job. So no. Second, conversion is the precursor to privatisation. Schools cannot easily be privatised without conversion because, presumably, ‘academisation’ is just converting the school into a bundle of assets and contracts. The kind of stuff that private companies understand. So, even if in the short-term, local authorities run academies, it is the conversion that is critical. We must ask ourselves why this is a suitable compromise for an ideological government. Because it is the academisation that they want. Eventually they will be sold/passed on to their friends to make risk-free money from.

Picture: Wikipedia

Privatising schools by stealth

GeorgeOsborne2015Here we go again. George Osborne (left), the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer – otherwise known as the finance minister – took it upon himself to announce in his budget last week that all Schools will be forced to become academies. This is to rid them of fiendish local bureaucracy and hand them over to private-sector “trusts” where no such bureaucracy can get in the way of delivering first class education to children across the country.

First of all, I was a little confused as to why the finance minister rather than the education minister would make the announcement. Even the Prime Minister is a more likely bearer of such policy news. Who is making policy here? Oh, and while we are at it, let us abolish the right of parents to be governors on school boards. They seem to be part of that unnecessary bureaucracy that gets in the way…

Let us look at the rationale. First, Osborne links local bureaucracy and poor global performance of schools (on very limited instrumental metrics). Simply not demonstrated. Not only are local authority-run schools high performers in some cases but academies also fail – take AET, as just one example. Second, centralisation is an attempt to micromanage education. The national curriculum does not hold in academies, but the testing regimes do. And less-than-exemplar exam companies such as EdExcel (a subsidiary of Pearson) run the show. A far cry from my own secondary education certificate from the Joint Matriculation Board, a lofty university accredited outfit.

The local authority monitoring – sorry, bureaucracy – will be replaced by a highly efficient and non-bureaucratic schools commission. Conveniently accountable to some oblique central authority, not locally-elected representatives or accountable local civil servants.

More pertinent, it seems, is money. There is money to be made for academies not possible under local authority control. So, Knight of the Realm Sir Greg Martin – boss of Durand academy chain, apparently notched up a tidy salary of £390k and management fees of £508k while also running a dating website, a health club and an accommodation business (as if running schools was a part-time business opportunity).

Then there is the land. Oh yes, now we are getting to the nub of the matter. Local authority schools occupy public land. Academy schools’ assets are handed over to a “trust” (if ever the word trust was misused it is here, surely?). Wait and see the terms of use of land held in “trust” change.

Then there are the children who have learning difficulties or behavioural problems. Academies have to be target driven and non-conforming children are removed and ultimately become the responsibility of local authorities, those democratically-controlled entities that bureaucratically hinder educational achievement.

And then there are the teachers. Academies are not bound by national terms and conditions. The current Education Secretary’s predecessor, Michael Gove, already freed up academies to employ non-qualified staff and to replace them with software programs. Really. Now there will be no national negotiations over pay. That is another attack on organised labour and another good reason for conversion.

Talking of which, The BBC reported recently that to date conversion has cost local taxpayers £32.5m. According to Michael Rosen writing in the Guardian, 2,075 out of 3,381 secondary schools and 2,440 out of 16,766 primary schools are academies. That is a lot of conversion money still to be found.

 

The rationale now makes sense!