Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

EDUCATION MATTERS: Issues outstanding

In R.Richardson, Uncategorized on October 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

{nb. this article was written before the start of the new academic year; 99% of our articles are published in the print of the Clarion FIRST – subscribe to get your copy and support our paper}

As we come to the end of  the academic year, it would be good to feel that some of the issues that have given us cause for concern have been resolved. Sadly this appears not to be the case.

Well over a year ago when Nicky Morgan took over as Education Minister, she made a promise to lighten teachers’ work loads.  This promise has not been fulfilled. Another pledge, that school budgets would be kept at the same level as formerly was also broken. These issues were just two that motivated the NUT strike at the beginning of July.

Lack of funding meant that some arts subjects have been dropped and class sizes have increased. John McDonell, addressing the rally declared that those calling for Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation  were “partially motivated by his support for proper education funding.”

TESTING TIMES:

This year new, tougher standard assessment tests were brought in for eleven-year-olds (they were also re-introduced for seven-year-olds after a lapse of several years).  Only about half of eleven year-olds reached the required standard , whereas last year 80 per cent did so.

As we reported in our last issue, teachers and parents alike were vociferous in their condemnation of these tests. And we wondered (cynically perhaps?) whether schools were being set up to fail so that academisation plans could be forced through. These results will depress and demoralise teachers and pupils alike. Mary Bansted of the Association of Teachers & Lecturers  said, “we are appalled by the shambles of the Key Stage Two Sats results.”

LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY:

We have been critical of the Government’s academisation policy for several reasons, not least their lack of accountability. A new report from the National Audit Office shows that there is no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property that have been handed over. The incomplete accounting “could take years to put right.”

Meanwhile, Nicky Morgan has promised to publish new figures which will be “robust.”  They were to be published “after the referendum” – but then that was a Nicky Morgan pledge.

MONEY MAKING:

A special investigation in the Observer focused on venture capitalist Mike Duran, who has ambitions to run over 200 schools. Staff at Colchesyer Academy, recently acquired by Bright Tribe Multi-Academy Trust, were informed that auxiliary services – catering, cleaning and building maintenance – were to be provided by a “national facilities management company” called Blue Support.  Eagle-eyed union official, Hazel Corby, spotted that its address was was the same as that of Bright Tribe. Further investigation revealed that  Blue Support’s  parent company was Equity Solutions , of which Mike Duran’s brother was managIng director. Mike Duran himself is also a diirector, one of ninety directorships that he holds.

Today, Duran is worth £75 million. One lucrative deal back in 2004 was a PFI  project at Speke, Liverpool. It included a school, library and leisure centre. The school actually closed in 2014 because of poor academic results. But Liverpool continues to pay a company called “Education Solutions Speke”  (of which Duran is a director and significant shareholder) over £1 million a year in interest payments. By the time the loan is paid off  in 2028 the complex which cost £22 million to build will have cost taxpayers £90 million.

“The story of Mike Duran,” says the Observer “is the story of an English education system that has been thrown open to private business interests  in unprecedented fashion.”

The National Audit Office has been investigating Bright Tribes accounts. The Observer investigation sets out a complicated  trail of companies and parent companies such as Pure Creative, an equity  solutions  company owned by Duran. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office continues to monitor the situation.

WORRYING:

In conclusion , a short but worrying report caught my eye.  A primary school teacher for thirty years, Sue Stephens, has such died from mesothelioma. This incurable cancer is caused by inhaling minute particles of asbestos dust. It seems that in 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), seventeen teachers died from mesothelioma.

Apparently, 86 per cent of schools contain asbestos and amazingly there is no long-term strategy for its removal.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, called on the Government to act urgently on this vital health and safety issue.

RETURN OF THE GRAMMAR SCHOOLS?

Teresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the departure of Education Nicky Morgan, whose policies were largely a continuation of those of her predecessor, Michael Gove.

Her replacement is Justine Greening. In the Andrew Marr Show on July 17th she said that she was  “open” to the idea of selective schools, but wasn’t going to make any decisions immediately. Theresa May has in the past expressed support for existing grammar schools, and it is reported that she may repeal the ban on new grammar schools brought in under Blair in 1998.

Other members of the new Cabinet including Boris Johnson and David Davis strongly support grammar schools. But policies leading to the establishment of new selective schools are likely to be strongly opposed  by many teachers and parents. Concern was also expressed by Melissa Benn, of the campaign group Comprensive Future, and by Alex Shapland Howes of Future First . He said “The priority… has to be reducing the gap in outcomes between those born in high – and low – income homes.”

RUTH RICHARDSON

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