This year’s National Union of Teachers Conference, at Easter, was held under the shadow of the Government’s White Paper and their consultation documents on ‘Fairer Funding’. Together these proposals represent the most extensive and severe re-organisation of the state education system for the last 40 years. The proposals in the White Paper will result in all state schools becoming academies, within Multi-Academy Chains, within the next 4 years, will remove the role of parent governors from school Governing Bodies and the ending of qualified teacher status as a prerequisite for teaching.
The consultation on ‘Fairer Funding’ proposes a levelling of the funding for each pupil/student in a state school across the country but with no additional funding. Inevitably this will mean that schools in some local authorities will gain, mostly the shire counties, but others, mostly city areas, will lose funding. Rather than see the necessity of moving all schools up to the funding levels of the highest funded ones over a period of time, the Government’s proposals will lead to conflict between various area within the country – a classic divide and rule tactic.
Another consequence of these proposals is that ‘de-delegation’ will end. This is the process whereby schools pay back to the Local Authority some of their funding to pay for services that the uuthority provides centrally. A lot of these services are support for pupils/students with special educational needs but it also includes the money providing facility time for Trade Union representatives. If all these proposals are implemented then the whole concept of national pay and conditions, enshrined in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions Document and the Burgundy Book as well as the Green Book for support staff are thrown out the window and we would be back into school based or academy chain based negotiations over everything.
These proposals represent the biggest ‘land grab’ in recent British history. All the land on which our schools are built will become the property of the academy chains, or, in some cases, they will lease it for 125 years and retain the right to dispose of it if necessary. So the land that was publically owned will become the property of the academy chains. Who will benefit from this? Not the local community, as the land is not sold to the academy chains. Not the Local Authority, as they will at best get a small income from leasing. The only ones to gain are the academy chains who potentially stand to make millions of pounds from the disposal of some of these assets.
To support such a major re-organisation of the Education system you would think that there would be clear proof that an academy provided a better education than the local authority schools. However, there is no evidence to support this at all. If there were then the Nicky Morgan, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Government would be trumpeting it from the rooftops. But they are strangely quiet on this.
So why are the Government perusing this re-organisation? The key is privatisation. Although academies are not privatised, they are removed from local authority support. Once all, or the vast majority, of school are academies we will see the state education sector opened up for profit. This is the real agenda of the Tories.
Already we see some academies refusing to take in students with special educational needs in order to improve their standings in the league tables. There have been a whole range of cases where academies have had financial issues. Recently one academy head seems to have been paid a second salary in addition to that as head of the academy. Other academy leaders face the courts over financial irregularities. Many academy trust members gain from contracts to provide the academies with particular services. Many would consider this a clear case of conflict of interest if not misappropriation of funds. If all schools become academies then this will only become more prevalent as the control systems depend on the DfE. In many cases public money, which should be used for the education of pupils and students, is used to line the pockets of academy heads and trust members.
In the face of this massive attack by the government, the NUT’s response was clear. We had to prepare the union for action and at the same time mount a propaganda offensive to make parents and others clear about the government’s proposals and why we are opposed to them. The message from the leadership was clear – go back to your local associations and divisions and organise against this attack and defend our education system.
Over the next few weeks, teachers and other school workers will be campaigning in every area against these attacks, trying to construct local alliances to force the Government to back down on its proposals. One key component of these local alliances will be the Junior Doctors who are facing many of the same threats that teachers are. In addition to this propaganda campaign the NUT will be looking to ballot its members for strike action over how these changes will affect members pay and conditions.
The NUT has moved a long way since it started to develop its ‘organising agenda’ and move the union away from the service union model into one which is moving to become a social movement trade union. There is still a long way to go to reach that goal but the decisions the union took at Easter represent serious moves towards it.