The education secretary must explain who profits from the government's forced academisation
Nicky Morgan yesterday made an appeal to us parents.
This week’s teachers’ strike has harmed our children’s learning. The only reason schools are being disrupted, she says, is because of the selfish interests of the profession, or the ‘old establishment’ as she has called them.
The strike was ‘certainly not popular with parents for whom this is a huge inconvenience’, she claimed.
I can put up with a bit of inconvenience, Mrs Morgan. I’d put it on a par with the day last week when I had to take the cat to the vet in work hours because of its infected tail. I got by.
What is disruptive is what you are doing to my school and countless schools around the country. Like so many at the moment, we are being forced into becoming an academy. That’s disruptive to my child’s education, and for no obvious gain.
Or at least no gain to the children in the school, or those in the rest of the borough who will be forced to follow our lead as the local authority support is removed. No gain to the teachers, who are worried about their contracts.
It was Rachel Wolf, your predecessor’s free school champion, who said that one of the top reasons people set up a free school, ‘to be honest’ is because of the freedom they have over teachers’ ‘pay, conditions and recruitment’. The same goes for academies, which can employ unqualified teachers.
So, who does gain from your disruptive behaviour, Mrs Morgan?
The academy chiefs with a nice business on the side providing services to schools? Or, the outsourcing companies that see academy chains as an opportunity to profit?
A couple of years ago, I listened to a representative of PwC explain how they had developed a service to provide the back office to school chains.
‘PwC isn’t spending all this money for the hell of it,’ said the rep, referring to the investment made by the firm. ‘We see this as a great opportunity.’
PwC – a company accused by MPs of promoting tax avoidance ‘on an industrial scale’ (i.e. not helping) – is one of the ‘business experts’ you have invited to get involved with school governance
What about the tech companies that want to take over teaching and testing? Will they gain? It was you who described phase two of your reforms as having ‘technology at their heart’.
And Michael Gove, the man you are backing for Prime Minister, who endorsed the view that ‘computer-based approaches to learning simply require far fewer teachers per student – perhaps half as many, possibly fewer than that… Technology can be substituted for labour [in schools].’
It is rumoured that Rachel Wolf, who went to work for Murdoch’s edtech company, and for the past 10 months has been education adviser inside No10, is cooking up a digital education strategy for England’s schools.
By chance, we know she’s meeting an ‘interactive whiteboard’ firm today, but the Cabinet Office is refusing to tell us who else she has been meeting. Will any of them benefit from your reforms?
What about the investors that see education worldwide as a $4.5trn opportunity to profit? Or the head of education at the venture capital firm, Sovereign Capital, founded by your schools minister, Lord Nash, who at a recent Education Investor conference in London said of the opportunity education now offered to business: ‘My gosh that’s lots for everybody. Let’s all go forth. Let’s all make hay.’
I don’t know if any of these private interests will directly profit from our school becoming an academy. Probably not in the short term. But what academisation does is open up the school budget to for-profit companies. I’d rather it went on our children.
So, who really gains from your reforms, Mrs Morgan? You are asking us to side with you. To turn against teachers. To trust you. You and who else?
I for one, don’t. If we’re picking sides, I choose the teachers.
They are the last line of defence against your reforms.
Tamasin Cave is a researcher with Spinwatch and co-author of A Quiet Word: Lobbying, Crony Capitalism and Broken Politics in Britain (Vintage, 2015)Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.