On Thursday 14th July Horsforth Against the Cuts (HAC) hosted a public meeting about Horsforth School becoming an academy. Attended by around 30 local residents, it featured speakers Gary Kaye, a local school teacher and NUT member, and Richard Raftery from Leeds NUT.
Andy Smith, Aireborough & Horsforth Socialist Party
Richard Raftery from NUT spoke first pointing out how the removal of local authority control of schools is not only damaging but potentially dangerous. He discussed the potential of public liability being removed and the potential devastation an incident such as a fire could cause not only physically but fiscally. As public liability is removed from academy schools, the local authorities would no longer be responsible for insurance and the school and governors would be responsible for welfare and any legal costs resulting from accidents. The local authorities role in education is one that cannot be replicated and marketisation of education will result in competition and profit at the cost of education.
One particularly disturbing fact given by the speakers was that a school decided to close during a snowy period as they could not afford public liability premiums to cover against accident. Snow is not an irregular occurrence in English schools and cost could literally stop children attending work in every academy as very few will have the funds to cover snow days.
The issue of competition in schools was discussed and this was later returned to in a question from a member from Horsforth Against Cuts, suggesting that the introduction of marketisation to education began in 1988 with schools competing with each other for funding and parents having control over which school their child attended. The competition created in 1988, which resulted in league tables and OFSTED reports causing funding to be reduced, mostly from inner city ‘underperforming’ schools, populated largely by working class children who did not have the same opportunities as suburban middle class students.
This has continued and continues in the proposed academies but with a significantly more odious shadow cast over it as private investment firms and governors with local business interests can control the school budgets, self select management and sub-contract to firms they either work for or in some cases, actually own. This is a clear betrayal of the original system devised to provide inner city schools with the opportunity to raise revenue by approaching local firms for funding but all of this would be completely unnecessary if public schooling were properly funded and the management bureaucracy reduced. It was clear that, while there are problems with the current system, it is a far better alternative than the one proposed by this government.
Richard Raftery summarised the importance of maintaining local authority control of schools neatly by saying “Some local authorities have performed better than others but that is NOT a reason to destroy them all!!” A clear statement about the excuse system this government is using to justify the alteration of the education system to sneak in their privatisation by the back door campaign. The message from the speaker was clear, one schools poor performance is not the excuse to privatise education, it is a problem we as a society are responsible for.
Another issue also returned to by a member of Horsforth Against Cuts was the issue of provision of education for disabled children. The condems have already devastated services essential for disabled people and they are going to further this with academies. Both Richard Raftery and Gary Kaye alluded to the fact that the funds for the provision of education to children with special needs will become competitive and disturbingly, this competition is not to have the most money to spend providing a good education to children with special needs but to have the children with the least affective disabilities in their school. As profit is introduced and a business model permeates education, children who are most expensive become a marginalised burden under academisation.
Gary Kaye focused his attention on discussing the marketisation of education and some of the intent behind Cameron, Gove and other Con-Dems behind the broader cuts and specifically their plans for schools. The cuts generally are aimed at removing public services and applying a ‘free market’ economy to places where there is no track record of this being successful in any case. The comparison to Swedish education was made but in actuality, the head of Swedish education said himself that this plan was wreckless and damaging and will not work. Gary discussed the old tie network and the Eton unofficial motto “effortlessly superior” which caused serious stirrings in the audience. The local issue of Horsforth School and academies brought up the point that this is not aimed at improving standards and there is no reason to believe there would be any improvement in educational standards whatsoever. The decision is not democratic and would further reinforce the ‘jobs for the boys’ attitude this government engender.
The following questions from the crowd raised some important issues and it was agreed that further action was needed to demand a proper consultation before Horsforth School can become an academy. If local tax payers are going to be forced to pay the bill for transfer, then they should also be consulted alongside potential parents. Socialist Party members will fight for a serious consultation amongst parents, pupils, staff and the local community on the academisation proposals, whilst also opposing the academy proposals and fighting for a fully funded public education for all.