Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Back to School

Sorry, been a bit lax with the blog lately as I've been moving house.

The Sheffield Star carries the headline 'FAILING' today, atop a lead story about the performances of 'Academy' schools in the city. Sheffield Park Academy, formerly Waltheof School, is performing badly. When it became an academy in 2004, it was an improving school (and by the way, £30million was spent on a new academy building even though the existing school was built in the 1990s). Academies were basically thrust on under-performing schools in poor areas, and were taken out of local government control to be run by trusts, usually Christians like Sir Peter Vardy the creationist car salesman, or some sort of cabal of education-wreckers like KPMG intent on promoting 'business and enterprise' to children.

This is all the more worrying because of last week's announcement that the previous requirement for these sponsors to stump up £2 million is to be scrapped. This might seem to make them more democratic, in that it won't be only millionaires sponsoring schools. But the political vetting process behind selecting sponsors means that in practice it will be. Imagine if the teaching unions but in a bit to run an Academy. The right-wing press would scream about the indoctrination of our kids. And yet the City of London and rich Evangelicals are somehow qualified to dabble in the education sector.

Sheffield's first two academies are run by the United Learning Trust, an Anglican charity. Its website includes a section entitled 'Private sector experience enabling public sector improvement.' A sentiment guaranteed to make the blood of any public sector worker boil. The deputy chairman of the board of its parent charity is Sir Michael Graydon, a former Air Chief Marshall in the RAF. There's lots of knights and reverends on the board. I'm sure these people have a wealth of experience and know all there is to know about educating kids in deprived inner-city areas. Much better than say, a Local Education Authority which is at least partly democratically accountable in a roundabout way. Much better than say, a teachers' union which directly represents the people working in the schools.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that the expansion of the Academy system has nothing to do with raising standards and everything to do with fostering a pro-capitalist, pro-'Christian morals' agenda in schools. Inherent within this is the privatisation of our education system which is continuing at all levels. Privatisation in education is doubly sinister because it will almost certainly result in a Victorian alliance of businessmen, clergy and military men influencing the thought processes of millions of children.

Short of leading a massive campaign to reverse this trend and fight for real education, the unions could always club together and buy some schools.

On a side note, I kind of hate the way the schools were renamed to give you no idea of where they actually are. In Sheffield they have the generic names of 'Park' and 'Springs' Academies. It might be a trivial point but it hardly goes along with the government spin that Academies would bring communities closer to their schools.

1 comment:

  1. I think your last nudge at government rhetoric about 'communities' is key here. It's a word which has taken over Democracy as the most ambiguous 'am I speaking to a tory or a lefty?' buzzword. (e.g. we need to strnegthen out communities...)

    Bringing communities closer to schools in particular, and government institutions in general, rarely means bringing those communities inside, but instead implies the inside talking to the outside in a clear and effective manner. Kind of like a speaking English loudly and slowly at a tourist as a method of coping the post-colonial situation.

    I often think the strongest example of this in schools is that in a community where urdu or sinhalese or chinese is the first/second language, french and french literature will usually be the preferred language to be taught.