Socialist Worker

Schooling for young consumers

by Michael Rosen
Issue No. 1675

'PSST! WANNA buy a school? I can do you a nice four storey job, chock-a-block full of clients, everyone a potential customer. Interested? I'll throw you in staff, management, heat, light, cleaning and services. And some beautiful marketing opportunities: canned drinks, ads for sports gear, sweets, toys - know what I mean?'

It's happening. Labour councils, urged on by a Labour government, are flogging off our schools. Last week it happened in Islington in London. Labour councillors in your area are at this very moment transforming themselves into salespeople. Basking round the inner cities are corporations, syndicates and consortia - mixed bags of old money, new money and local money eyeing up schools with a view to making more money.

The old idea that education should be a process that ought to be controlled through local committees appointed by elected councillors, under the direction of elected members of parliament, is being wiped out. For all its faults, that system acknowledged that most of those buildings and facilities belonged to us, were paid for by us, were maintained by us. If this or that politician sounded off about education it was in some way or another part of a public debate - a debate that we could take part in, protest about, and with a vote perhaps secure some small change or another.

Now no one reading this paper has been under any illusions that what was being delivered up in the past was a fair system that gave working class children a fair slice of the cake. Socialists and trade unionists have battled against this inequality, trying to keep schools open, trying to secure more funding for this or that project, fighting to abolish the kinds of exams and tests that terrorise and discriminate against our children. But through all these fights I don't suppose many of us would have predicted that the very same councillors and MPs that we've sometimes looked to for support are now selling off the schools themselves.

Look at how the trick is done. For years schools have been starved of funds, so now the picture can be painted that lovely sugar daddies from banks and computer firms are coming in to make up for the shortfall. We can see where it's heading - in the US nearly 40 percent of schools begin their day with TV commercials. Exercise books teach eight year olds maths by counting a brand of sweets. Schools are becoming sales agents for Pepsi and Coke.

We gave the keys of our schools to Labour councils and a Labour government, and they're using those keys to open the doors to capitalists to come in and create a 'business friendly environment'. Books come into classrooms emblazoned with their corporate sponsors. The consortia say that they want education in the upper years of secondary school to suit the needs of business. It's a picture of children being schooled in consumer addiction and wage slavery by teachers paid for out of the public purse. A bosses' dream. It's our job to wreck it.

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Sat 4 Dec 1999, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1675
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