What on earth?

I’ve been quiet for a bit but the situation affecting education has been anything but. One could be forgiven for thinking that the skids are under Gove. Almost every day, information emerges that tarnishes the reputation of the academies and ‘free school’ project: Al-Madinah (dysfunctional according to OFSTED), Discovery (to be closed), Bradford’s Kings Science Academy (fraud investigations, head arrested and released on bail), an academisation halted in London following a high court injunction, are some of the headlines. But we have to remember that Gove is sponsoring a market revolution and the logic (?) takes account of failures along the way. Gove will plough on regardless.

The reform of exams hurries on chaotically with teachers at a loss, and Gove has redoubled his attacks on teacher unions, dubbing the NUT an “extreme left-wing” organisation, whilst urged on by those guardians of the public purse, The Tax-payers Alliance and Lib-Dem minister David Laws is encouraging schools to limit or cut out all together union ‘facility’ time. Quite why ‘expenses fiddler’ Laws is even an MP let alone a minister is a mystery,  as is why the Tax-payers Alliance has been silent about the massive overspend on free schools.

Meanwhile the recent excellent Guardian exposé on the apparently legal siphoning off of public money by firms running academies ought to have got more attention than it did (no Newsnight, nothing on the BBC at all: maybe a Panorama special is being made as I type!). There is actually a ‘snouts in trough’ story here to rival the MPs’ expenses scandal but I am not confident that anyone in the media has the will to pick it up and run with it.

The upcoming Education Select Committee investigation into academies and free schools ought to be interesting. The organisation for which I blog (Hands Off Our Schools) made a two and a half thousand word submission which has been published on the parliamentary website (click link and scroll down to name of organisation) along with many others from individuals and organisations. These committees have a reputation for fierce independence and, if they go for Gove as one hopes they will, the resultant publicity could bring the folly of his project to mass attention in a way that hasn’t happened up to now.

However, we mustn’t fool ourselves into thinking that Gove can be diverted from his purpose and so must start looking to alternatives. If the Conservatives retain power in May 2015, we can only look forward to a complete break-up of the state education system and more open profit-making from schools than we see at the moment. But what if there’s a Labour-led government from then? The signs are not good.

In the first place, it is probably expecting too much for them to reverse the massive academisation that will have taken place by May 2015. They have pledged not to allow any more free schools but these will be replaced with something that, on the face of it, looks the same. Tristram Hunt has attacked the employment of unqualified teachers in free schools but figures show very few of them have actually been taken on and in Nottinghamshire, putative free school providers are pledging to employ only qualified teachers, thus neutralising this point. On the other hand, Hunt obviously feels the need to ingratiate himself with the electorate (perceived to be at least suspicious of teachers) and edubusinesses by suggested that there are teachers who need to be sacked: his proposal for the licensing of teachers sounds reasonable but is probably angled at currying favour. It’s hardly a ‘big policy’ anyway. At the moment, the Labour Party could be going for the jugular on the massive and evident syphoning off of public funds by  educational pseudo-charities (read this excellent post by anotherangryvoice).  Why aren’t they?

The strategy now must be two-fold. Trying to argue with Gove is pointless – however much ‘evidence’ we come up with, he won’t budge. We have to go on informing the general public about what is going on as most people would be aghast at the criminal waste of money and the evident failure of policies supposedly designed to improve performance – if only they knew. Possibly, with a public outcry, Gove could be forced from office or Cameron brought to see him as an electoral liability. Unfortunately, the media are not interested in – or geared up to deal with – this sort of incremental scandal. They want a ‘shock horror’ for tomorrow’s headlines. This could happen (maybe there’s a juicy scandal at Bradford Kings Science Academy that could splatter across the tabloids)  but let’s not hold our breaths.

The second strand must therefore be to pressurise the Labour Party, who are the most likely to form a government in 15 months’ time, assuming the Tories don’t. Those, unlike me, inside the tent, need to be putting on pressure but I know the Labour hierarchy are adept at holding in check their left wing, terrified they might be labelled ‘socialist’. They’ll do anything that they think will receive support from the mass of the electorate, especially the so-called ‘squeezed middle’. That’s why they won’t nationalise or renationalise academies and free schools, where many of these people now have their children.

Probably the best we can hope for, then, is proper regulation and a role for the necessarily slimmed down local authorities in monitoring standards in all schools in their area. It’s far from ideal but realistic – and much, much better than the Thatcherite revolution Gove has wrought.

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