"Ask me my three main priorities for government and I tell you education, education, and education." Tony Blair 1996.
“My next ambition is this: five hundred new free schools, every school an academy, and yes – local authorities running schools a thing of the past.” David Cameron 2015
The education system in the UK has, since New Labour came to power in 1997, been undergoing a revolution which has picked up speed under the Coalition and then Conservative governments. These successive governments have largely dissolved the model of state-owned schools and universities staffed by public-sector employees. Today most children attend schools that are self-governing charitable trusts which are completely independent of local authority control, in other words academies. David Cameron, in 2015, set out the current government's goal that all UK state schools should be converted to academies by 2020. The concept of free education no longer applies at all to universities, with fees of £9000 per year and rising. The influence of unaccountable corporate business is slowly replacing that of local authorities which are accountable to communities and subject to the democratic process.
WHY IS EDUCATION A GREEN ISSUE
Green Party education policy starts out from the principle that education should provide everyone with the knowledge and full range of skills they require to participate fully in society and lead a fulfilled life. The Green Party rejects market driven models of education that see its role only in terms of international economic competitiveness and preparation for work. Clearly education is about more than a narrow utilitarian approach of fitting people into the labour market, important as that is.
It is also about developing young people's interests and abilities, broadening minds, fireing imaginations, creativity and, from a Green perspective, encouraging an appreciation for the natural world and experience with the world of nature.
In order to achieve this it is clear that schools need to offer as broad a curriculum as possible, meaning one that encompasses the arts, music and drama as well as offering specialised subjects such as Classical Civilisation, Environmental Studies and Archaeology as well as traditional 'core' subjects such as English and Mathematics.
Unfortunately the current direction of travel is leading to the opposite; a narrow utilitarian curriculum framed to serve corporate interests.
Furthermore there is also the issue of social justice. Education is a right and an entitlement and should be free at the point of delivery to people of all ages. Education is social rather than market provision and the Green Party opposes any attempt to privatise state-funded schools or to enable them to become profit-making.
ACADEMIES AND FREE SCHOOLS
Academy schools are state-funded schools in England which are directly funded by the Department of Education and independent of local authority control. They are self-governing charitable trusts and may receive additional support from personal or corporate sponsors, either financially or in kind. There are two types of academy. Sponsored academies are maintained schools which have been forced by the government to become academies and which have a government-approved sponsor. Converter academies are schools which have themselves chosen to become academies and are not required to have a sponsor, although they may choose to do so. Free Schools are completely private institutions set up from 2011 via the Free School Programme. An academy trust that runs more than one academy is known as an Academy chain.
As of June 2015, there are 4,676 academies open in England. There are hundreds more in the pipeline.The number has grown dramatically under the coalition government, from 203 in May 2010. Now over half of all secondaries in England are academies.
So what is the problem with this?
1) Academies and free schools are not accountable to local people via local councils. They render laughable the government's promise of 'localism' and represent the centralisation of contol over education into the hands of central government.
2) Academy sponsors and free school founders can be corporate businesses and sectarian religious interests. As such the education of children can be in the hands of organisations with a profit motive or religious agenda to push. In Sponsored Academies, the sponsor is able to influence the process of establishing the school, including its curriculum, ethos, specialism and building (if a new one is built). The sponsor also has the power to appoint governors to the academy's governing body.
3) These schools are able to make their own changes to staff pay and conditions ie pay them less and also to employ marginally qualified teachers.
4) These schools are essentially private providers. Currently they are state funded. Currently.....
5) Academies and free schools have more freedom set their own admissions policies and exclude the less able.
6) Academies are costly. A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee, the parliamentary select committee responsible for ensuring value for money for the taxpayer, condemned the programme as 'complex and inefficient', leading to more than a billion pounds of overspending. In 2013 the budget for education was cut by 5.7% in real terms. While infrastructure spending was cut by 81% and the non-academy budget for education was cut by 4.31%, the budget for academy schools was increased by a huge 191%.
7) Free schools, which are private institutions, suck funding from state schools. So far more than £1.4 million of capital funding alone has been provided by the taxpayer for businesses to open schools.
THE PERFORMANCE OF ACADEMIES & FREE SCHOOLS
A study carried out for the Local Government Association (LGA) in 2015 compared the attainment of pupils at academy schools with those at maintained schools which had similar characteristics. It found that progress made by students in sponsored and “converter” academies was no greater than that of children at maintained schools.
In 2013 Michael Gove's flagship free school, The Discovery Free School in West Sussex was given Ofsted's lowest rating of 'inadequate' and placed in special measures. Later that same year the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby hit the headlines due to female teachers being compelled to wear a headscarf while teaching pupils, while lessons were routinely scrapped in favour of prayers, fairy stories were banned for being 'un-Islamic' and girls were made to sit at the back of the classroom.
A third of free schools have been found to 'require improvement' by Ofsted, which is marginally worse than ordinary maintained schools.
Students also face a decrease in time dedicated to lessons such as drama, art, music and physical education.
This picture is one of huge financial cost at the expense of the taxpayer, no convincing increase in standards, religious extremism unchecked and a narrow 'bog-standard' curriculum.
The Green Party would reintegrate both academies and free schools into local authority control, therefore restoring democratic accountability on a local level.