AMID media speculation that Blair’s government is willing to compromise on plans for independent ‘trust schools’, contained in next month’s Education Bill, the reality is the opposite.
The latest Education White Paper, which has preceded the Bill, makes clear that ‘trust schools’ will function as independent business units funded by the government. ‘Trust schools’ will function largely outside the control of local councils’ education authorities, which have a legal responsibility to provide pupils with places in schools offering the necessary courses.
Such a fundamental attack on state education, provided by primary and secondary schools organised by local authorities, has provoked huge opposition, even in the ranks of normally compliant Labour MPs. More than 90 MPs have supported an alternative Education White Paper.
Blair and Education Secretary Ruth Kelly were engaged in an offensive yesterday to get these Labour MPs to submit. Downing Street said: ‘We are in a process where people are contributing to the debate.’
Kelly told the London Evening Standard that ‘most of my colleagues have more measured and specific concerns about the detail, especially on admissions and the role of local authorities, and I will continue to explore these areas with them’.
But while the Education Secretary was promising to listen to Labour MPs, teachers’ unions and working-class parents, she was closeted with representatives of big business, discussing how their companies can take over state schools.
Kelly held a seminar with the leaders of 25 major companies and charities yesterday. It was the first of a series in which she will meet the bosses of Microsoft, the KPMG accountancy group, the Corporation of London and the Mercers Company, a charity that controls the fee-paying St Paul’s School.
Under the proposals in the Education White Paper these business interests will ‘sponsor’ trust schools.
They will control income and expenditure, who can attend the school, what is taught and pay rates for teachers, independent of the policies being pursued by elected local councils.
This break-up of the state education provided by primary and secondary schools and its handing over to big business interests, represents a huge step towards the wholesale privatisation of schools.
Blair and Kelly are forging ahead with this at a time when the full extent of the damage caused by the Labour government’s first major attack on state education is evident, that in universities.
In 1997, one of the Blair government’s first measures was to tell universities that they had to find sponsors and business partners for funds. Student grants were abolished and students were forced to pay tuition fees of £1,000 a year (now £1,175). This autumn all students face tuition top-up fees of £3,000.
Every year 800,000 students take out student loans to pay their fees and be able to live while they are at university. At the end of their courses the average student debt is £12,000 at present. Already 138,000 graduates cannot keep up with their student loan repayments, and last year, 899 graduates filed for bankruptcy because of their debts.
With fees set to triple this year, it is estimated that more than one in a hundred potential students will not go to university because of their fear of huge debts. It is the legacy of ending free state education at the university level.
This is the kind of disaster that Blair and Kelly are now planning for millions of school pupils.
‘Trust schools’ will decide who they will take and some of the courses they will provide. What will stop them from charging hidden fees for books, equipment, field trips and extra teaching?
We are told that the forthcoming Education Bill is a major part of ‘Blair’s legacy’ and that he is determined to proceed with it.
Students, teachers and parents must demand their union leaders campaign throughout the trades union movement for strike action to defeat the Education Bill. It is clear this means bringing down the Blair regime.
Those leaders who refuse to organise this fight for the right to education must be removed and replaced by those who will.
Every worker and every trade unionist demands equal access to free state education for all. This can only be provided by a workers’ government implementing socialist policies to provide the funds for education.