The ‘Importance of Teaching’ white paper is progressing through Parliament in the rushed fashion that is being applied to all the coalition’s current bills. And it’s dangerous.
The proposals within the white paper lay out plans for the deregulation of schools deemed ‘failing’ – that is, schools which don’t achieve 35% A*-Cs or 60% Level 4s in Year 6. The plans are an attempt to copy the system in Finland – while ignoring the fact that Finland suffers from very little social inequality. Instead these plans are aimed at cutting off schools in deprived areas from local authorities, and by extending the US-style system of league tables, will only add to the stigma that schools in poor areas currently have, while ignoring the social problems of poverty, lack of decent housing and unemployment that cause performance to lag in these schools.
The bill comes at a time when 87% of secondary school students are receiving a per-capita cut, as well as 60% of primary school pupils. Young people are faced with a government that is making the nation’s children pay for a crisis that capitalists caused. And while tax dodgers are paying only 8% on their income in tax havens, working-class parents are paying double that. The rise in VAT isn’t going to make life any easier for children in low-income families either.
Which leads us to ask – why did the Lib Dems drop their election pledge for a mansion tax? Such a move would be not only immensely popular, but could go to increasing funding on education, thereby protecting our young people’s futures. But no. Instead the government is intent on scrapping EMA and cutting teaching budgets for universities by 80%.
The real term cuts to education will be made worse by the loosening of the admission code for schools that choose – or are forced – to become academies. It will result in an end to education as a right, not a privilege, and along with universities, some ‘state’ schools could become segregated enclaves of the well-off.
Recent research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 3.7 million children live in poverty. Doesn’t sound much like a the society of a ‘developed’ nation does it? The total number of people living in poverty in the UK is an estimated 13 million, or over a fifth of the population.
The last thing the government should be doing right now is breaking off underfunded schools from elected local authorities. We need a movement that fights for all students – whether they are five or 25. Despite what the government says, the academies bill is not a step forward. It’s a huge step backward into a system which penalises poor students in underfunded schools for not getting straight-As. The scrapping of the EMA, the tripling of tuition fees and the ‘Importance of Teaching’ white paper must all be fought on the streets and in Parliament. And Ed “I-was-doing-something-else-at-the-time” Miliband needs to be at the front of the struggle. As much as I like him, John McDonnell can’t be our only Labour spokesperson in the House of Commons…
(Happy 100 days of leadership by the way, Ed).