New Labour's Education Bill, published last week, is a privateer's dream. It simultaneously 'deregulates' schools, opening the way to further involvement by private companies, and tightens the stranglehold of government bureaucrats over what is taught.
The bill allows schools to form themselves into companies, after getting approval from the Department for Education. They would then be free to set up a range of business activities. One idea is for schools in rural areas to set up post offices and health centres shut down by central government cuts.
The bill gives the government powers to force councils to contract services out, and to hold competitions for companies or charities to operate new schools. That also fits with the government's drive to introduce more 'faith schools'. Some 90 percent of the 200 new faith schools are set to be run by the Church of England, even though recent reports into education in Oldham and Bradford show these schools are utterly divisive.
The bill also paves the way for more 'academies'. These are in effect private schools funded by the state but run by business. The new education bill will allow 'top schools' to pay teachers above national pay scales.
That will further increase their unfair advantage over the rest. At the same time, 'weak schools' will face the threat of being taken over by others at the say-so of the government.
The bill allows the pay of all teachers to be linked to their annual appraisals, which take account of the performance in exams of their pupils. The overall result is further moves towards a two tier, market-driven education system.