School for scoundrels

It’s not exactly surprising that secretary of state for education Michael Gove has said he has “no ideological objection” to schools being run by businesses for profit. After all, as he points out, he is a Conservative: it’s pretty much a given that he’ll prefer corporations to citizens if the former wants something that the latter has. In this case, the something is funding for education.

I’m still small-minded enough to think that if there’s money washing about in the education system, then it should be reinvested back into education, not diverted to shareholders. I’m such a giddy idealist, I think that having already paid tax to support state education, it’s a bit bloody much for the state to cast that money out to the private sector on the understanding that profit is a better motive for education than responsibility. And I’m sufficiently economically naive that I just can’t understand how installing extra layers of non-educators is going to make the system more efficient or better value.

But while Gove says that “school improvement will be driven by professionals not profit-makers”, the profit-makers have already moved in. According to The Economist, Swedish for-profit company Kunskapsskolan is due to set up two academies in London. University College London is also getting into the academy business, and The Economist reckons they’ve chosen well: “Other universities might be advised to follow suit, for the government is ring-fencing spending in this financial year on schools. Universities are not so lucky.” (I guess someone has to pay for those grotesque vice-chancellors’ wages, and if the degree student glut is over, the younger ones will have to do.)

Even The Economist – which clearly thinks academy and free schools are a very good thing – is frank about who these new arrangements will help. It’s not going to be the children who most need support:

Whether having more academies will close the growing gap in academic performance between rich and poor children is moot; the new academies are more likely than existing ones to end up teaching well-off [pupils].

So the flagship education policy is going to entrench inequality, as well as suck funding away from schools and into the pockets of “providers”. And while all this is supposed to encourage appealing-sounding virtues like “autonomy” and “freedom”, Gove isn’t such an ideologue that he’s above a bit of centralised crowd-pleasing curriculum fiddling: he’s keen for empire-apologist Niall Ferguson to direct the history syllabus.

That’s the Niall Ferguson who, having weighed up everything and thought very hard about it, reckons that the deaths of millions of colonised Indians sits very fairly on the balance sheet opposite an entry for “increasing the GDP of Great Britain”. So children can learn the dogma of profits over people in the classroom, while they’re having the dogma of profits over people inflicted on them from outside, making Gove’s centralised decentralisation one of the most elegant hypocrisies of the coalition so far.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2010; photo by Xin Li 88, used under Creative Commons.

6 thoughts on “School for scoundrels

  1. Education is awash with companies making very mice profits through PPF, consulltancy, trust management fees, exam fees, minibus hire, staff agencies, IT services, etc…
    Allowing the school itself to make a profit may place some restraint on the rampant profitability of others in the ecosystem and result in better outcomes for students.

  2. If the school kept it, it would be a budget surplus, not a profit. This is about what private companies take away. Any service or property that’s essential to day-to-day education should belong to the LEA – I detest PFI, and this is the coalition’s extension of that Labour policy.

  3. I feel like crying. Schools have been shafted for years by the growing number of institutions making money from the system. The presures on a primary schools buget have meant less and less money actually being spent on resources for the children. How many people working in schools have had months where they can’t even use paper because of a spending freeze? A standardised curriculum has taken years to acheive, and it still isn’t perfect but it does meant children are getting a similar education experience wheather they live in rural rutland or deprived inner cities. The new plans will allow accadamies to teach what they like, and that scares me. It will also put cash into peoples pockets instead on the classrooms. Not to mention the fact that they plan to remove the ring fence on teachers saleries, allowing heads to pay what they like. This will send all the quality teachers into the academy system, leaving deprived areas with the dreggs of the profession and widening the gap between rich and poor. A much better result for students!

  4. Excellent post. It’s depressing that with fees ensuring HE has become profit-driven, schools are now going the same way. Even more depressing that despite school students being able to get through 14 years of education without even touching on colonialism, the Tories are keen to press that the main focus of the History currciulum should be “the rise of the West”. Great, just great.

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