Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Schools are being nationalised so they can be privatised

As Stephen Tall rightly says, the announcement in the Budget that all schools will be obliged to become academies amounts to the nationalisation of education.

And as John Elledge shows, that nationalisation includes the biggest appropriation of Church land since the Reformation.

What is going on?

I think I put my finger on it back in 2007 when I reviewed Reinventing the State - the social liberal riposte to the Orange Book - for the Guardian.

I suggested that Liberal Democrat activists would:
appreciate the way Huhne's vision of a rich diversity of local provision contrasts with the Tory idea of popular schools taking over the rest: "It's been a good half for the school: the match with Harrow was won, and St Custard's was purchased through a leveraged buy out."
That sounds like me attributing my own eccentric enthusiasms to the party as a whole, and I have forgotten what became of the idea of popular schools taking over the rest.

But it was clear back in 2007 that the Conservatives believes schools should be run as much like private companies as possible.

Hence the recent emphasis on chains of academies. Hence the Budget's removal of parent governors as part of its nationalisation of schools.

What I fear will come next is the gradual privatisation of what the Treasury has nationalised.

As John Elledge says,
Which schools have held out against academisation? They're disproportionately small (larger ones are more likely to be able to afford in house IT teams and so forth). They're disproportionately likely to be primaries (secondaries are larger). And they're disproportionately likely to be rated outstanding (if it ain't broke, don't fix it). 
And what type of schools are disproportionately likely to be small but outstanding primaries? Faith schools.
Taking on the churches my look a bridge to far even for George Osborne, but it is easy to imagine a campaign against small schools.

We will be told that they cannot offer the facilities and breadth of curriculum that our children deserve. Expect to hear the 'global race' invoked.

And what will become of these closed small schools? Just think of the prime building land they occupy in the centre of sought-after villages.

The forced application of a business ethos to education will result in narrowed educational provision and a diminished life in many communities, even if the schools stay in the public sector.

But is hard to resist the prediction that, at some point in the process, the Treasury will take the opportunity of cashing in and selling off schools to the private sector.


Ken said...

Part of the process for turning schools into academies is to transfer the land from various forms of public tenure to private trusts. In other words it is not just the school which is taken out of local authority control but the land on which it is built is taken out of public ownership. This document explains how it happens. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/254887/land_transfer_advice_april_2013.pdf
What's more the government pays the legal fees for such transfer.

Jonathan Calder said...

Thank you, Ken.

Anonymous said...

But it was clear back in 2007 that the Conservatives believes schools should be run as much like private companies as possible.

I don't think that's quite true.

I think actually it's another bit of the Conservative worldview in play here: it's not private companies they want to introduce to education, but competition.

The idea is that if you have all the schools run by the local authority then they will pretty much all be doing the same thing on a standard model.

Whereas if you have them free from local authority control, which they tried first by establishing free schools, and are now extending to already-existing schools, the idea is that schools will try different approaches; the ones which have the best ideas will get better exam results; parents will then send their kids there; and so the best schools will expand and the less-good ones will either be taken over by the best ones, or wither and die.

You may disagree with this idea (I personally think it's doomed as it misses the point that competition in education has to work both ways; that is, not only are some schools better than others but some pupils are better than others, and a 'good school' is often as much a function of its intake as its ethos, and so if you let good schools expand as parents flock to them because they are good, you risk destroying the very thing that made them so good in the first place), but I think this is what's going on.

It's not about privatisation; it's about introducing competition.

Which is as much an article of faith for the Conservative party, but is not quite the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Competition won't result from this in the long run. For one reason, multi-academy trusts will subsume groups of schools resulting in homogenous provision. Also, take over of failing schools by successful ones results in the same thing. There won't be competition amongst schools in any meaningful way.

Anonymous said...

I didn't say it would work, I said that that is why they are doing it.

(And, indeed, the fact that it won't work in the long run isn't necessarily even a disadvantage, if you believe that the point of competition is to find the best way of doing something: once you've found the best way, then you replicate it, so indeed, the point of competition is that in the long run the best wins the competition and drives out all the less-good).

Anonymous said...

The reality is far more subtle.

Schools are not being privatised, they are being franchised out to charities. And who could possibly disagree with charities? [You see Tories believe in education as a charitable act, something you do to people, not an entitlement or right.]

The privatisation comes in the next step: These charities will have to buy services that local authorities are being stopped from providing. Many of these charities and private suppliers are owned by Tory donors...