Socialist Worker

Alienation, segregation, privatisation – the reality of Blair’s education policy

by Terry Wrigley
Issue No. 2050

Tony Blair’s promise as he won the election in 1997 was that his top three priorities would be “education, education and education”.

But in many ways, he carried on where John Major left off – Ofsted inspections, endless tests, league tables and market competition between schools.

The grip of central control tightened as teachers were instructed exactly how to teach as well as what.

This level of central control has made it hard for teachers to be creative and capture pupils’ interest.

Blair’s government has done little to reduce class sizes. While the rich send their children to private schools with small classes, most children struggle for attention in classes of 30.

Even young children are regimented. They are drilled in literacy and numeracy to boost the school’s test scores – but that’s no way to make enthusiastic learners.

The result is boredom and alienation. Many young people just can’t wait to leave school. Britain has nearly the lowest percentage in post-16 education or training of any developed country.

Blair is a sworn enemy of comprehensive schools.He has worked to replace comprehensives with many competing types of school.

His latest Education Act divides schools and pupils into two groups from the age of 14 onwards.

Half will study a broad range of subjects, similar to GCSEs. The other half will begin work training, often for low paid jobs.

Blair has consistently demanded more setting and streaming, despite the evidence against its usefulness. It is no surprise that the achievement gap is as wide now as when New Labour took power.

New Labour is the party of privatisation. England now has academy schools run by secondhand car dealers, City bankers and tax dodgers.

These schools are funded from our taxes, but the private “sponsor” has absolute power to choose the head and staff, and decide what pupils will learn.

Blair has changed the meaning of education – all that matters is producing “human resources” to increase profits.

Achievement still depends largely on parents’ income and qualifications.

After ten long years of Blair and Gordon Brown, we still have one of the worst levels of child poverty in Europe.

Little has been done to improve working class and ethnic minority achievement, apart from blaming teachers and schools.

We now have more university students, but few can fully concentrate on their studies. For most, university is, in effect, a part-time course squeezed in between long hours of low paid jobs.

And conditions are even worse in the colleges.

Further education funding is being cut for anything that isn’t work-related – even courses in basic English are being slashed.

Despite his rhetoric of “improvement” and “transformation”, education has stagnated under Blair.

The final verdict on Blair’s ten long years came from a United Nations report this February. It concluded that Britain is one of the most disturbing and unhappy places to grow up in.

Our pressing task is to make sure Blair’s successor cannot continue along the same road.

Terry Wrigley’s book Another School Is Possible is available at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop, phone 020 7637 1848

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