In the UK budget last week, George Osborne announced that all schools in England would be forced to become academies. What does this tell us about democracy? That a party that received votes from 24% of registered voters, but with a majority in the house, want to force upon schools, parents and children something that was not in their manifesto.
Parents, teachers (and of course, pupils) will not be able to object, parents will not be on the board of governors (because we need professional ideologues in that job) and teacher’s contracts will be “negotiable.” Sponsors choose the majority of those on the governing body of academies already (1) eliminating any pretence of democracy.
The academy report card is hardly glorious. In 2014 half the schools in one large academy chain were failing. (2)
This model is ripe for corruption, with little true oversight. One academy chain paid consultancy fees of £800,000 over 2 years to companies that the sponsors and trustees had a financial interest in.(3) Public money is being used to line the pockets of dodgy folk who see children’s education as a way to make a quick buck. Head teachers’ salaries are also soaring in academies and “free” schools.(4)
There is a possibility with academies to ditch the stifling National Curriculum and offer something else, but parental choice (never pupil choice) is a fallacy. (see The Myth of Parental Choice) When a leading arms manufacturer is running a school, we have to question the ethos that will be promoted. (5)
Measurement can become the problem. “Good” schools get “good” exam results. “Good” teachers have students with “good” exam results. But when 4 out of 5 of the exam successes going to university have mental health problems (6), with one third contemplating suicide, what exactly have our “good” schools produced?
Academisation is, of course, one step on the way to total privatization of education. Removing schools from local authority control destroys local democratic accountability. One person (Secretary of State for Education) becomes the dictator of all schools with regional commissioners overseeing thousands of schools (7), if all become academies. Pupil money flows to private organisations, who can make a profit out of warehousing kids, reduced to economic generation units in the industrial model. Public money goes to private hands to redefine children.
Each pupil will have a price tag/ profit tag on their head. Accountability becomes, instead, accounting. “How can we save money?” becomes how can individuals make more profit from imprisoning children against their will, inflicting upon them something neither they, their parents or even teachers have chosen
All mainstream schools are undemocratic – pupils have no say, parents have limited say, teachers too do not play a major role in decisions in most schools (they may be able to decide who to punish)
Maybe, after all, it is a model of the type of democracy we have – the illusion of having a say in all aspects of your life by being allowed to put a cross on a paper every 5 years. In the UK, where only 24% of the electorate voted Tory, this is hardly the will of the majority. So schools may be a perfect preparation for life in a democratic society but it doesn’t have to be like this or limit our view of the possible in this way. Democratic schools like Summerhill (8), where the rules and decisions are taken jointly between staff and students, point the way towards what true democracy can look like. It isn’t braying men in suits in an antique “house” inflicting their toxic ideology on us all.
Posted on twitter @McewenB , a lesson for us all:
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