The Marketisation of education began under Thatcher with the 1988 Education Reform Act and has continued to this day. We have been led to believe that competition between schools would drive up standards, as would parents having choices.
The reality is that ‘Choice’ is not universal. Middle-class families may have some power to exercise choice by moving to more expensive neighbourhoods in an attempt to guarantee the right school place. When that isn’t an option, we are largely left with whatever school we are allocated. Personally, I don’t want choice, I want good schools for every child, with guaranteed standards that are adhered to universally, no child left behind. No school left in a poor state of repair. With a focus on educating children, and young adults as whole beings, not just exam fodder. Testing at school is the greatest cause of stress for our young children, why are we over-testing them instead of allowing them to flourish? Teachers are not valued enough or empowered, this needs to change. Highly successful education systems such as the Finnish model do not rely on over-testing or competitiveness and teachers are supported in their vocation.
In the UK the focus on league tables for performance means that where children look unlikely to gain the revered 5 A-C’s the incentive to still ensure they achieve the best they can for them has gone, and focus goes on the brightest pupils.
The marketisation has produced no joy for staff either. Schools opting out of local authority control can reduce staff and wages. We now have staff being made redundant and unqualified teachers replacing experienced staff for less money. How can that possibly be good, for pupils or the economy? In Cornwall, 113 schools in Cornwall are Local Authority maintained as opposed to 157 which are run by Academies.
In FE and HE the situation for the workforce is much the same but with rapidly increased casualisation, experienced and highly qualified staff even after achieving a PhD are unlikely to get permanent contracts. Short term or Zero-hours contracts are the norms. Lecturers are valued for their ability to bring in funding via research rather than educational skill or experience. Staff are being forced into strike action to protect their pension, a recent UCU ballot of the University of Exeter staff resulted in 92.6% in favour of strike action – join the picket in the morning of the 22nd or 23rd of February at Penryn to show solidarity.
Meanwhile, vice-chancellor pay spirals out of control-95% sit on the pay body that awards their salary! At Falmouth University this resulted in the vice-chancellors pay increasing by 1/3rd over 5 years! Students at University are forced into £57,000 of debt and pay interest on their loans at 6% while the base rate is 0.5%, making our education system one of the most expensive. Now we have an announcement by the Conservatives that they are ‘looking into’ the system.
Labour has promised to bring in a national education service. As a trade unionist, I have always been committed to life long learning, it is essential for society, so I warmly welcome these plans, Towards a National Education Service, for example,
‘Labour will reintroduce maintenance grants for university students, and we will abolish university tuition fees.’
‘Extend the 30 free hours to all two-year-olds, and move towards making some childcare available for one-year-olds and extending maternity pay to 12 months.’
‘Accountability – Labour will ensure that all schools are democratically accountable, including appropriate controls to see that they serve the public interest and their local communities. We will require joined-up admissions policies across local schools to enable councils to fulfil their responsibilities on child places, to simplify the admissions process for parents and to ensure that no child slips through the net.’
‘Set a target to double the number of completed apprenticeships at NVQ level 3 by 2022,’ and, ‘Guarantee trade union representation in the governance structures of the Institute of Apprenticeships.’
‘To implement the Sainsbury recommendations, we would correct historic neglect of the FE sector by giving the sector the investment – in teachers and facilities – it deserves to become a world-leading provider of adult and vocational education.’
We will also remove tuition fees, bring back maintenance grants, invest the £14 bn needed to repair all schools and fit sprinklers to increase safety.
The Conservatives promise of an 18-month review into its damaging education policies is nowhere near enough. The failures in the system are obvious and need to be addressed now.