A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Education not for sale

Michael Gove has been drawing some of the details onto the Tories' fuzzy "people power" poster. The big question is, which people, what power? The answer is - not you. Instead, Gove's mates will get the power to take money away from your children. The Tory manifesto says it will copy Sweden's "free schools programme," allowing parents to set up their own schools with government money. This month the Tories admitted the obvious - that "any parent can take the money," but they will take the money from somewhere else. A new "free school" will not be free for the Local Education Authority - cash will drain away from existing schools to fund Gove's new toys. And where will the money go? The manifesto says that new schools can be "founded by foundations, charities and others." We need to ask the same question they always ask in that TV programme Lost. "Who are the others?" In the television show, "the others" are a malevolent and sinister group of settlers who harass and manipulate the unfortunates marooned on the tropical island. On Gove Island "the others" are an even more malevolent and manipulative group - Cameron's business chums.

Aspirational consumer parents on the Toby Young model will front the new people power schools. But the actual running of the school can be passed to for-profit companies - which must interest John Nash and his wife Caroline. They have given the Tories £177,500 since 2006. Nash runs Sovereign Capital, a private equity firm specialising in investments in private school companies. So far he has failed to get his hands on a state academy school due to worries about his Tory and business links; Gove as minister would change all that. Look at the wider Tories' education policy and you'll see they plan to revive the policies of one of the least successful Tory ministers of the Major years. John Patten, education minister between 1992 and 1994, was so ineffectual that most people confuse him with former environment secretary Chris Patten. Chris was the blond one who became governor of Hong Kong. John was the one with brown hair in a kind of Brideshead floppy style. John Patten always had trouble making the right impression, according to his former girlfriend, author Lucinda Lambton. She said that, when he walked into the same room as her in the 1990s, she had "felt sick" and "had to leave" as he had been "repellently smooth." She told a friend: "In my greasy past, he is the biggest grease spot of all." She also described Patten as "the slimiest skeleton in my cupboard."

He made an unpleasant mark in education as well. First he made a fool of himself by describing leading educationalist Tim Brighouse as a "nutter." Brighouse sued for defamation and Patten had to pay out £100,000. Patten then tried to take on the teaching unions - and failed. In his autobiography former PM John Major wrote that Patten was "rather worn down by it," to the point where "his health suffered and I decided he needed a sabbatical." Patten was widely rumoured to have suffered a nervous breakdown, and the minister could be heard mumbling that heaven and hell should have a more prominent place on the school curriculum to scare children into better behaviour. Major sacked Patten and sent him to the back benches, his ministerial career over. And now the Tories want to revive all his disastrous schemes. Patten wanted schools to "opt out" of local authority control. He didn't want democratically elected local councils running schools. Instead, he wanted centrally funded schools answerable to a committee that he set up, stuffed with businessmen who funded the Tory Party. It flopped. But the Tories' "free schools" would follow the same lines.Patten launched a "licensed teacher" scheme. He was convinced that teacher training colleges were soaked in the "fashionable ideas of the 1960s."

He wanted to send people with a "business background" straight into the classroom to learn on the job without the influence of the ungodly radicals who he thought infested the colleges. It flopped. But now Gove is promising a programme called Teach Now, which would also put party-qualified people from "business backgrounds in the classroom." Of course it is easy for the Tories to launch these crazy schemes because Labour has been running its own versions of Patten's failures - incredibly with Patten's personal help. Patten lost none of his appetite for failure after leaving government. Indeed it even seemed to infect his wife. Lady Louise Patten was a key director of Bradford & Bingley. The firm collapsed after issuing too many dodgy mortgages and had to be bailed out by the Labour government. She was also a director of a property firm called Brixton. That went bust too. Her husband had beaten her to the punch when it came to collapsing companies. After Parliament, Patten became a director of privatisation specialist Amey. It went into a crisis and was bought out by a Spanish multinational, leaving Patten out of a job. But before his company crashed, the Labour government asked Patten to help out with schools. Patten's firm Amey sponsored the Middlesbrough "city academy." This business-backed school was supposed to rejuvenate education, but instead inspectors found truancy, poor teaching, inappropriate buildings, "exceptionally low" results and "inadequate" progress. Labour's academies were their version of Patten's "opted-out" schools and the Tories "free schools" take the process one step further.

Labour had its own version of "licensed teachers" as well, an on-the-job training scheme marked by "weak training," leading to "unsatisfactory teaching." So the Conservatives plan to revive the education policy of a man even his former girlfriend called a greasy spot and a slimy skeleton. But their job is a whole lot easier because Labour already flattered Tory failures with its own imitations.

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