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Blair faces a revolt on the home front over Foundation hospitals, tuition fees and schools crisis..

Issue No. 1847

Any gloating over the occupation of Iraq does not look set to last long as Tony Blair pushes ahead with his massively unpopular privatising agenda. Blair could be facing bigger parliamentary revolts by Labour MPs than he did over the war.

Blair and his cronies are determined to push through the creation of foundation hospitals and higher student tuition fees in the teeth of massive opposition from the public and his own party. Foundation hospitals have been slammed for heralding the break-up of the NHS.

Hospitals given foundation status will attract more funding and staff. These hospitals will becom elite institutions. Hospitals not granted foundation status will sink further behind and offer worse care. The plans were unanimously rejected at a conference of health workers in the Unison union two weeks ago.

An influential think-tank, Catalyst, says that foundation hospitals will 'lead to significant distortions and inequities in the allocation of investment, resources and trained staff'. The report states that the proposals would unleash 'competition, commercialisation and privatisation'.

Top ministers are desperately trying to head off a revolt. They are even considering repackaging the foundation hospitals as 'community hospitals' to make them more acceptable. The government also faces huge opposition to its planned introduction of higher university top-up fees.

January's White Paper proposed allowing universities to charge up to £3,000 a year in top-up fees. Many experts agree that this figure is set to rise much higher in the future.

The debts students have when they leave university look set to rise to an average of £30,000 because of fees and living costs. A poll by the National Union of Students (NUS) last month revealed that such debt levels would put 85 percent of students off going to university. This will completely cut across the government's frequently stated aim of getting more students into higher education.

NUS president Mandy Telford said, 'If the government is genuinely committed to opening up education then it must remove the threat of top-up fees and debt. 'This research only underlines that, under these current proposals, less advantaged children will not have the same opportunities of access as their richer contemporaries.'

Thousands of teachers face the sack

AS TEACHERS meet at their annual union conference over the Easter holidays, thousands of teachers face the sack because of a £600 million funding hole. This is despite Gordon Brown's promise of £12.8 billion over three years for education in last week's budget.

Schools' costs have gone up because of the increase in national insurance and higher contributions to teachers' pension schemes. But the government hasn't provided the money to match this. Its new funding system has deepened the crisis. Even education secretary Charles Clarke admits there are problems. 'The way the formula has worked for some schools has caused difficulties,' he said.

Schools across the West Midlands are planning to sack over 200 teachers. 'This year's budget promised more spending in education,' says Paul Blake, the NUT teachers' union officer for the West Midlands. 'The problem is that it doesn't always seem to get where it is most needed. 'We have had considerable numbers of our members phoning up in the last week about their proposed redundancies.'

Some schools are even begging parents for money to pay for staff. St Marylebone school in central London has been told it has to lose six of its 70 teachers. It has asked parents to donate £100. Its budget rose by £235,000 this year, but its costs increased by £600,000.

Test stress

SCHOOL STUDENTS are so overloaded with exams that the whole system is in danger of breaking down, according to a parliamentary report. Hundreds of thousands of school students are facing 'unacceptable levels of stress' because of being constantly tested says the respected Education Select Committee. Pupils take around 100 exams during their school lives.

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Sat 19 Apr 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1847
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