Schools Green Paper
Taking the Capital-Centred School System to a New Level
On September 12, the government published its green paper “Schools that work for everyone” [i], setting out initial plans for the next phase of its and its predecessors’ neo-liberal, capital-centred transformation of the school system.
The plans are a continuation down the present direction in all respects, in spite of broad and growing opposition. There are to to be more private school places, more academies and so-called free schools, a return to selection, and higher university fees. At the same time, the plans represent something more: the wholesale creation of a public-private partnership as opposed to a state-run school system.
The paper first proposes to allow the expansion of independent, i.e. private, schools. It is here that the public-private partnership concept is most evident. “Independent schools directly assisting the state-funded sector, through creating more good places, and giving more choice and control for parents,” the paper puts it. The plan is for these private schools to support, sponsor, open and have responsibility for state schools, in particular academies and free schools.
Independent schools would “sponsor academies or set up a new free school in the state sector. The capital and revenue costs of this would be met by the government, but the independent school would have responsibility for ensuring its success.” If this is not feasible, independent schools would “provide direct school-to-school support with state schools” or “provide access to facilities, sixth-form scholarships,” for example.
Academies are themselves state schools under a public-private style of arrangement. This takes things further, building up the private sector and having it become integral to the public sector. The paper even proposes that private schools should “ensure their senior leaders become directors of Multi-Academy Trusts, to give strategic steer and leadership and provide experienced staff to be governors”.
Similarly, universities, increasingly run as businesses, would play “a direct role in improving school quality and pupil attainment”. In return for the ability to charge even higher fees, they would “establish a new school in the state system, of which the capital and revenue costs will be met by the government”, or “sponsor an academy in the state system”.
The stated aim is that all have access to a “good” school. This “good” is not a neutral concept: implicit in this notion is a certain vision of education. The system is to be a conglomeration of selective, non-selective, academy, independent, and free schools. The green paper also mentions faith schools in this regard, which are themselves a kind of free school. All are supposed to play off each other. One aspect of this is the existence of a market; another is that “best practice” gets established. But the market is not free and equal. Best practice will be set within large Multi-Academy Trusts dominated by private interests, which will include representation of rich and powerful private schools.
Yet another aspect is that education becomes further tiered, the student population gets further segregated. Much coverage has been given to the plans to return to selection at age 10-11 by allowing existing grammar schools to expand, new selective schools to open and existing non-selective schools to become selective. The paper summarises this as “selective schools providing more school places, and ensuring that they are open to children from all backgrounds”. There is a sense in which this is a return to the old grammar-secondary modern division, and it is often described in this way. However, in context it is part of the same neo-liberal transformation. All new selective schools, it is proposed, will be free schools; they will therefore play a particular role in the public-private school system being instituted.
A capital-centric system requires selection: it is a machine for producing a range of school and university graduates who have the skills required by private businesses in their state of mutual competition. This does not require all-sided development of the population. It is a system designed to allocate people to a place and who know and, in the main, accept their place. Aspiration and striving for something better is reduced to personal advancement and individual competition, rather than full participation in society.
Selection gives a semblance of meritocracy and is presented in terms of fairness and opportunity. “Meritocracy” was one watchword in Theresa May’s “my vision” speech at the Conservative Party conference. This selection has nothing to do with rights. Rather, it can negate young people’s rights: being deemed elite or not is defined by means of tests or other such measures and set in at school level. This is a system that seeks to impose a definition on young people rather than seeing them in their life and in motion.
The government’s proposals to create a public-private model for the school system amount to a negation of public authority and handing control over to the most powerful private interests.
Writing for LabourList in July last year [ii], before becoming leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn said in opposition to this direction that “education is not about personal advancement but is a collective good that benefits our society and our economy. We all benefit from a more educated and skilled workforce. Earlier in the [Labour leadership] campaign I set out how we could scrap fees and restore grants, now I want to widen that vision and set out a plan to move towards a National Education Service… Fifty years on [from the establishment of the Open University in 1965], it is time to start putting the case for investment in learning from cradle to grave. A National Education Service would be every bit as vital and as free at the point of use as our NHS, and should be delivered by the end of the next Parliament… Government must play a strategic co-ordinating role in a modern economy. For too long the UK approach has been to stand back, ‘let the market decide’, then hope for the best.”
So the issue is: where is the education that educates the youth to secure the future of society and implement the public will? It is inconceivable in the present conditions where the very conception of society is under attack.
Education poses itself as a necessity for society and is related to the aims of society. A human-centric society educates people in an all-round sense to participate fully in society in every way, including decision-making. Such a society takes care of its future by defining the role for education to be to enable the youth to prepare themselves to take control of the future of society. This requires that education all-sided, from the scientific to the cultural and political. It also means that education at the highest level that society can provide should be available for everyone as of right. To fight for a change in the direction of society and the economy so as to guarantee this right therefore poses itself as the greatest necessity for the working class and people.