We are at a crossroads. Do we want to see real school improvement based on systematic co-operation between schools, or our education system broken up into a competitive, profit-driven private sector market place?


The Government is accelerating the fragmentation of state education through Academies and “Free Schools”. Derbyshire Local Authority didn’t want such privatisation, but the last Government told them that, if they did not agree to an Academy there would be no investment in much needed new school buildings. No research, no debate – just budget blackmail!

Now the new Government has written to all Headteachers to say that there is no longer any need to consult with anyone – staff, parents or local communities - before taking their school out of the local education system. They’d like the schools with the highest results to become Academies by September – despite the initial “spin” that Academies were intended to improve the results of children from the toughest backgrounds. And, facing the professional reluctance of most Headteachers, they offer Academy schools more than their fair share of education funding, and the possibility that they may never have to be inspected again.

But even this is not enough. They are now organising groups of parents to start their own “Free Schools” - based in any vacant buildings, such as pubs, offices and shops, or even private houses. The taxpayer would meet the running costs, but the parent group would have complete control. And, because the parents would not have the expertise to run such schools, they would need to “buy in” private management consultants – meeting their exorbitant “fees” with more public money.

These schools are modelled on Swedish “free schools”. Many of these have in fact been taken over completely by private businesses, as parents – predictably -find themselves unable to meet the challenges. And so privatisation is achieved by the back door, with the profits coming from the taxpayer, the money being removed from state schools in the area. The Swedish National Agency for Education has reported very directly that these schools have led to increasing social divisions, as they restrict entry to pupils from the most “acceptable” backgrounds. Of course, as they usually choose only the most able pupils, their results appear “better” than those of local comprehensive schools - open to all pupils regardless of background and ability.

There is absolutely no evidence, despite Government spin, that Academies and Free Schools improve standards. In fact 28 existing Academies are listed by the Government as “failing”. But these political moves are nothing to do with educational standards, and everything to do with the privatisation agenda – enabling businesses to make money out of education… to start with in consultancy fees, and eventually through direct profit as in the United States. Michael Gove, for the Government, says that he has “no ideological objection” to such profiteering.

How do “Free Schools” make profit? By taking public money away from state schools and employing far fewer qualified teaching staff. Under regulations introduced by the last Government, Teaching Assistants - who should be supporting qualified teachers - can now teach whole classes on their own. They are paid about half the rate of a teacher. Where teachers are employed, Academies and “Free Schools” do not have to employ them under the Government’s own Pay & Conditions Regulations. Clerical and support staff are similarly undercut. And this is happening not just in Britain, but all over the world. “Education International” has identified the forces behind this as “powerful and predatory entrepreneurial interests seeking to profit from education”.

If we are really interested in educational standards, we need to look at how schools can work systematically together, sharing expertise, best practice, resources, professional training, distributing the budget according to identified needs. But this, in a fragmented privatised system, will become increasingly impossible as schools are forced to compete with each other, not co-operate.

The education community – teachers, support staff, parents, Governors, local councillors, local authority staff – need to put forward our own proposals for an integrated, professional service designed to meet real needs of all pupils… not a fragmented, dog-eat-dog situation where some schools “succeed” and others are left to go to the wall – to the profit of unscrupulous “edu-businesses”.