I feel a mild annoyance towards whoever it was that leaked the Department of Education memo containing plans to privatise academies. It is not; you must understand, that I do not want to know the government's plans for state schools or that I do not wish to write about them. It is simply that had the Department of Education sprung a leak a few days earlier I could have incorporated the memo into my last round of Govebashing™. I might even have been able to be clever with the title and talked about an 'O-turn' rather than the normal directional change of the U variety, in a week where the death of one bad idea for education was followed by the mooting of a new attempt to make schools less inclusive.
However, now that the memo is public people should start worrying about the plans it contains. As ever it appears that the demands of politics have crossed the demands of the people, at current funding levels academies, free schools and 'normal' state schools (who knew the coalition's reforms would cause state schools to be held in even lower regard by the government than they already were?) will require an increase in funding just two months before the next general elections. If the funding status quo, that is to say full state funding of such schools, is to be maintained this would require either a tax rise or funding cuts elsewhere. It doesn't take an astute political operator to see that after five years of austerity enforced by smarmy, suited ex-businessmen this will be incredibly unpopular in March 2015.
So the DoE has another solution, one that requires no action from the government and in fact will see them take even less responsibility for schools in the state sector. Academies and free schools, already less regulated than traditional state schools to the point that they can hire teachers who have no formal teacher training, may be 'reclassified to the private sector' and allowed to become profit making entities. The government's responsibility to fund such schools, which currently takes up almost 20% of the DoE budget, will be cut. It will also result in approximately 10% of current state schools being open to the possibility of privatisation and pupils having to pay for their education.
This reform comes in a number of shades. The first is to group new academies 'into chains' (a direct quote) to be run by a trust. How long, one wonders, before we see 'Tesco Education' to go with groceries, car insurance and petrol if this plan is adopted. The second possible option is the 'reclassifying' mentioned above, to allow academies and free schools to become fully privatised. The memo notes, stating the obvious with no discernible irony, that this second plan is the 'more radical' of the two.
This comes from a coalition government that contains a party, the Liberal Democrats, who have pledged no expansion of private sector influence in the state system. As a student I am inclined to take any promise from Nick Clegg well below face value yet the Lib Dems appear not to have been informed about this proposed policy. Aside from highlight the already palpable shakiness of the coalition this does leave a margin of hope for those who do not wish to see education become even more selective. With Labour highly unlikely to vote for such a proposal, although the shadow Education minister's assertion that there should be no 'fast-buck culture' in education is flaccid in comparison to the stinging reply these ideas deserve, the Lib Dems could easily defeat the government in a vote much like they did over changes to constituency boundaries. But whatever comes of this memo there will be even more of Mr Gove and his ideas on our television screens and newspaper pages before it ends, which is most definitely a bad thing.
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