Socialist Worker

Is comprehensive education dead?

Issue No. 1909

BLAIR’S FIVE-year plan for education will haunt ordinary parents and schoolchildren for generations to come.

He wants to drive another nail into the coffin of comprehensive education.

His education secretary, Charles Clarke, is announcing the creation of around 500 independent schools with even greater freedom from state control.

They will function in the same way as private schools, except that the government will give taxpayers’ money to private firms to run these schools.

The Local Education Authority will not have any control over the schools.

So they could vary the school year, change the national curriculum and pay staff like cleaners and caretakers whatever wage they think they can get away with.

New Labour wants to sell these independent schools, which are little different to city academies, as raising standards in education.

The government is preying on parents’ fears that their children are not getting a decent education.

But New Labour doesn’t care if the majority of our children get a fulfilling education. It knows full well that only a minority of state schools will be able to become independent or city academies.

As these will have to prove that they have low truancy rates and are run “efficiently”, it will favour schools in better-off areas.

The vast majority of children will be left to rot in the remaining schools, which will be branded second best and starved of resources.

These schools entrench selection in education. City academies can choose up to 10 percent of their pupils by “aptitude”. Faith schools already have the power to select their pupils.

Many working people hated the Tories because they stood for education for the few, elitist public schools, and universities for the rich.

That’s exactly where New Labour’s school bus is heading.

“This will promote a privileged group of schools while others are suffering.

“Those who can afford to pay will be able to employ the teachers they want, while those who cannot—including those in poorer areas unable to raise funds from parents—will not be as well positioned to attract qualified teachers.”

That was the verdict of Steve Sinnott, the NUT’s new general secretary.

Despite his talk during his election campaign about a closer partnership with New Labour, even he is condemning the government’s education plans.


‘Why I left Labour’

RON McINTOSH is a longstanding councillor in Nuneaton. He has had enough of New Labour.

Last weekend he cut up his Labour Party membership card (see picture right) and joined Respect.

While out campaigning for Respect around the parliamentary by-election in Hodge Hill, Birmingham, he told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been a councillor for seven years and I’ve been in the Labour Party for 20 years.

“The biggest reason I’ve left was that I didn’t agree with the illegal invasion of Iraq. Tony Blair set out to convince the public that they were for an open, inclusive government that listened to people. But they refused to listen over the war. The Labour Party doesn’t even listen to their own local councillors. The war was the last straw. But I’m angry about other things. I feel that the education system is becoming a middle class system, set up by middle class people. They keep saying how much they are giving to education, but there is never enough to go around.”


Hey, Jarvis, leave them schools alone

ONE OF New Labour’s favourite firms for PFI schemes has hit a financial crisis.

Jarvis, the engineering company, admitted this week that its debts have tripled to £240 million. Its share price began plummeting.

Jarvis has 19 PFI deals affecting 120 schools, the Department of Trade and Industry admits.

Steve Norris, the Tories’ failed mayoral candidate and Jarvis chairman, had to rush to claim that the firm was not going belly up.

New Labour’s PFI frenzy has allowed the ups and downs of the stockmarket casino to impact on public services like schools and hospitals.

While Jarvis is nursing its gambling debts, others firms are counting their winnings from PFI.

Innisfree Group, an investment firm run by Labour supporter David Metter, has made £50 million in two years from renegotiating loans on three hospitals it helped to build.

Innisfree and building group Taylor Woodrow made £43 million on refinancing the Princess Royal University Hospital in Bromley, south London, less than a year after it opened.

The hospital has suffered power blackouts and had problems with its telephone system.

Innisfree, Laing and Serco split £100 million between them from renegotiating the deal for Norwich and Norfolk PFI hospital. The hospital is suffering from a multi-million pound deficit.

Two isolation rooms designed to treat patients with highly contagious diseases were not operational for almost three years. Air ducts risked pumping lethal bacteria into public areas.

The private consortium behind the Dartford and Gravesham hospital carved up £33 million in profits. Innisfree was also behind that.

The new hospital failed basic standards on hygiene, trolley waits, cancelled operations and breast cancer referrals.

Metter made £700,000 last year from Innisfree. He is also the chairman of the PPP Forum, which campaigns for more PFI deals in all areas of the public sector.


Work makes you sick

THE RIGHT wing media have been pumping out stories accusing workers of taking too many “sickies”.

But a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development published last week showed the real reason why workers in Britain take time off work.

Workers in the public sector have the highest sickness rates due to stress and high workloads.

More than half of the respondents said stress-related absence had increased in the last year.

Workers in health and central government take 11.6 days on average off sick a year.

The Department for Work and Pensions has attempted to use bullying tactics against its workers to cut the average of 12 days a year sickness absence.

This includes formal action which can lead to dismissal if a member of staff takes more than eight days a year off. This has failed. But the department has further piled on the pressure by announcing 30,000 job cuts last week.

It’s not just the public sector. Transport workers and those in the food, drink and tobacco industries have on average 12 days a year off sick.

Companies are already trying to scare such workers from taking time off. Tesco announced a pilot scheme last month to stop some workers in its stores receiving sick pay.


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Sat 10 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1909
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