Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

CARRY ON CAMPAIGNING! The Clarion Review of 2013

In Editorial, R.Richardson on January 13, 2014 at 1:35 pm

 & PAYING THE PRICE FOR “FREE” SCHOOLS

For those affected by the impact of Austerity Britain, the past year has been tough. Falling living standards, rising prices on those essentials in life, and in many cases, poverty wages, have typified it for far too many.

This time last year, in our Clarion Comment review, we highlighted the rising resistance to the ComDem Government’s “austerity” measures – together with its plans to transform the NHS into a semi-privatised parody of its former self.

Despite the scale and fervour of the opposition , the Health & Social Care Act was pushed through Parliament – and we are now just beginning to feel its impact. Meanwhile, Government attacks on the welfare system continue unabated. The dismantling of the Welfare State, established in the late 1940s, has now reached the point where the very notion of an all-embracing welfare system based on the needs of all of us has effectively been abandoned. At best it’s now seen merely as a safety net for the needy – and not a very efficient one at that. It’s no longer seen as raising them up by dealing with their needs but as keeping them in their place.

WHAT OF THE FIGHTBACK?

Sadly, however, much of the organised resistance to these Tory measures has dissipated – or perhaps been fragmented. Maybe it’s because the opposition has found itself having to fight on too many fronts. Or maybe a certain “war weariness” amongst many active campaigners has emerged. Or, more hopefully, it’s a pause for breath, to re-group.

There’s certainly been plenty to campaign against during the last twelve months. Gradually, brick by brick, the NHS is being re-structured. As in education, threats and the blame culture are used indiscriminately as a stick to beat those involved back into line. Meanwhile the number of homeless continues to increase , whilst benefits are capped or withdrawn altogether – particularly from those who are deemed to be failing to “actively seek work”. They are the ones who are now being pushed to the margins of society, condemned with the label of “scroungers”. And, of course, the contemptible “bedroom tax” is now causing real hardship to many of those affected. It is difficult to keep a roof over one’s head when rents are pushed beyond one’s means and there is no alternative accommodation with the appropriate number of bedrooms. Ed Miliband has pledged that Labour would abolish it.

THE ROCKY RISE OF UKIP:

But it has certainly had a major impact on the political agenda. Suddenly “immigration” became a number one issue. It provoked a contest between certain parties as to who had the most “robust” (sic) policies on keeping out those who, for whatever reason, wished to come to the UK. The success of UKIP in the polls spurred on the Tories to move the whole issue of immigration up the agenda. And, so far, the left has failed to counter the ugly propaganda that’s emerged.

But on a more positive note, the emergence of “Forest Unity” marked a local breakthrough in the anti-UKIP campaign. It was formed after the County elections in May, and held its launch event – a well attended gathering in Ruardean – at the end of June.

Meanwhile, on the economic front, Osborne was able to claim that we were now “turning the corner”. The economy, he said triumphantly, was back in growth (albeit by a tiny decimal point). Whether he could make the same claim about reducing the deficit is another matter. But he did tell us that unemployment was now falling.

Of course it’s fairly easy to massage the unemployment figures. As Churchill once said, “there are lies, damned lies, and then there’s statistics.” First of all you delete all those who you decide are not “actively seeking work”. Never mind the reasons. Then you force those still on the unemployment register into pseudo jobs – part-time, low paid employment, or the iniquitous “zero hours” contracts where those affected become part of a pool of labour who may gain a few hours work at the bidding of an employer, and often at short notice.

“TOO MUCH”:

At the same time, those who’re on benefit are accused of getting too much. They are having their source of income capped to ensure that they don’t benefit too much. But as we commented in our August/September issue, “the fact is that those on benefit aren’t paid too much. They never have been. The reality is that in far too many cases those who are classified as employed are paid too little… This is the scandal that we need to tackle.”

But now at last we may see a serious attempt to face up to this issue. Ed Miliband seems to have put the concept of a “living wage” on to the political agenda. Whether this will have any impact on current policies remains to be seen – but Labour appears to be trying to shift the debate away from crude rhetoric about economic recovery to one more concerned with living standards. Here the call for a “living wage” together with the pledge to freeze energy prices is to be welcomed.

On other fronts, as we approach the end of 2013, we’ve seen Gove’s ideologically-based policy of setting up “free schools” begin to crack at the seams. And in the NHS a number of “failing” hospital trusts have been named and shamed – making us wonder whether maybe, just maybe, they are being set up for disposal to private health companies when the next phase of health “reforms” kicks in next year.

THE BIG LIE:

And, of course, the insistence of Tory politicians that their “austerity” measures are necessary is based on a lie. It is a cover to hide the sustained attack on working people, their livelihoods, and the Welfare State.

As the novelist Ian Banks put it before his untimely death: “your society is broken, so who should we blame? Should we blame the rich powerful people who caused it? No, let’s blame the people with no power and no money, and those immigrants who don’t even have the vote. Yeah, it must be their fucking fault.”

Experience suggests that those countries that have been prepared to soft-pedal on their austerity package have been able to pull out of recession far more successfully than the UK. Even the head of the IMF has suggested that Osborne’s “slash and burn” policy has gone too far!

There are signs that the message may be getting through. Labour is maintaining its lead in the polls, and Ed Miliband’s attempts to change the agenda seems to be striking a chord.

Maybe we could look for a lesson to the USA. Here, the Republicans, driven to the right by its raucous “Tea Party” faction, has been losing support; whilst in New York, a Democrat, Bill De Blaiso, has been elected Mayor on a progressive platform including increasing taxes on the rich to pay for pre-school places for every child and to build more affordable housing in the city.

A straw in the wind, perhaps?

>> the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Clarion magazine editorial committee

PAYING THE PRICE FOR “FREE” SCHOOLS

by RUTH RICHARDSON

Remember the Al-Madinah school in Derby? We reported on it briefly in our last issue, recounting how all women teachers had to cover their hair, and girls had to sit at the back of the class.

FAILED ON ALL COUNTS:

I make no apology for returning to the topic. New facts have emerged which demonstrate clearly the dangers inherent in the setting up of free schools. When Ofsted inspected Al-Madinah, so many problems were found that the school was closed completely while the investigation continued. The report declared:

“This school is dysfunctional. The basic systems and processes a school needs to operate well are not in place. The school is in chaos.”

Staff in key roles did not have relevant qualifications or experience. Most of the teachers in the primary department had never taught before.  This of course could never have happened in a school under local authority control.

THE CURRICULUM:

Another cause for concern was the nature of the curriculum. Free schools may decide what and how they teach. It’s not required that they follow the national curriculum (as those under local authority control have to do).

Guidelines are supposed to guard against Muslim fundamentalists being able to set up a free school. In fact Al-Madinah was originally marketed as an “interfaith” school in order to qualify for taxpayers’ money. It was promised that 50 per cent of the intake would be non-Muslim – but because the school operated according to Islamic law, the students were 100 per cent Muslim.

The school was thus declared inadequate in all the inspection categories, and was put into special measures. It had been open for just a year.

“INNOVATIVE”?

The Kings Science Academy in Bradford, another free school, was set up two years ago. Last year, David Cameron visited and described it as innovative and inspiring. He later praised the school in a personal letter to the principal.

Earlier this year, a catalogue of financial irregularities came to light.

More than £80,000 of taxpayers’ money was misused, to hold parties, buy furniture for staff and pay for first class rail travel. Furthermore, a senior member of staff appointed his brother to the board of governors, employed his sister as a teacher while his wife also worked at the school and his father drove the school bus.

It all began to look like a family business. But again, neither the misspending nor the nepotism could happen in a local authority controlled school.

BACKSLIDING?

The new shadow minister for education, Tristram Hunt has now retreated from his earlier opposition to the very idea of free schools. Presumably their abolition is considered to be too politically unpopular in certain circles.

But there would be, under Labour, crucial differences. Only in those areas of need could free schools be set up. Qualified staff would have to be employed and there would be proper financial accountability.

One might have thought that links with the local education authority would be another priority for Labour, but this has not been spelt out. In a recent survey of London parents with a child at a free school, 91 per cent thought that local authorities have an important role in maintaining high standards in all schools

LAST WORD:

Meanwhile, a free school is proposed in Islington, an area where there is no shortage of school places. The site had been earmarked for social housing.  A local teacher said: “Islington does not need a school run by a private consortium, taking resources from well-performing local schools, without the control of local democracy, and staffed by potentially unqualified teachers – but it does need more social housing.”

RR.

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  1. You don’t need to look as far as Islington. In Stroud, Steiner are wanting to set up a free school which will undermine our current local schools. We have massive capacity currently and this could make smaller schools unviable. Contrary to the argument that free schools create choice, choice will actually be reduced if this school is set up.

    http://www.stroudlife.co.uk/Headteachers-speak-Stroud-Steiner-Free-School/story-20358258-detail/story.html

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