26 May 2010

Moving so far to the right you won't recognise them

While yesterday's Queen speech (useful details of the 23 bills included here) contained some good stuff, notably on civil liberties (scrapping ID cards, reduction in surveillance and CCTV, more rights to protest) it was, particularly on economic policy and public services, largely a right-wing Tory effort.

The biggest example of this is the complete change in priorities for academy schools. Previously used as an attempt to boost performance of badly-performing schools in deprived areas, they are now going to be used as a kind of surrogate grammar school or GMS programme - the best performing schools will be allowed to opt out of LEA control and will get more resources to do so. Huge educational inequalities already exist in the state system, but one could at least argue that Labour's academy program was an attempt to bring the worst performers up to closer to the average (even if the mechanism for doing so was questionable). Whereas this is a recipe to exacerbate educational inequality and pave the way for the wholesale privatisation of the system a few years down the line.

Welfare reform is another area where the Coalition is moving to the extreme right. While the idea of conditionality in the benefit system (i.e. where you have to undertake job search as a condition of receiving benefit, if you are fit to seek work) is reasonable enough, the amounts of benefit currently being offered to unemployed people are so inadequate that there is no way the system can function properly to facilitate job search. Iain Duncan Smith's solution? Pay people even less and make the sanctions positively draconian. It seems likely this will just produce thousands of people dying on the streets, or a new criminal underclass. Which is of course the idea, as the coalition will then be able to implement harder sentences and be "tough on crime". It's like Tony Blair x 1000%.

So some real sicko bills here, giving the lie to the idea that this is some centrist coalition. That certainly doesn't mean that the left should oppose every single thing the coalition's doing. But it does mean that on several key policy issues the agenda seems to be a lot of Tory and not very much Lib Dem.


voller said...

It seems like now may be a good time to get the hell out of education.

What really bugs me is every time Michael Gove (or anyone else for that matter) talks about letting schools escape "Local Authority control". As an LA employee serving our schools, I can categorically say we absolutley do not *control* our schools. We help, advise, support - maybe sometimes challenge if we thnk they're doing something questionable - but the schools do not have to take the slightest bit of notice of us if they don't want to. However most schools do use our services because they find us very useful. Our schools already are very diverse, each carving out their own personalities and developing specialisms, regardless of being LA-funded.

Most of the aspects mentioned that the Academies Bill will give schools more freedom from (such as salaries and curriculum) are nationally determined, not LA-determined. I admit that admissions policy is within LA control, but then each LA is in the best position to understand the local needs. LA admissions policies have in many cases helped in some way towards getting rid of the devisive structure of 'elite' schools and 'sink' schools, in an attempt to improve social cohesion and the life chances of the most disadvantaged.

I fear we are about to enter an age where schools will no longer have to pay any heed to the locally employed advisers (who have actually been teachers and understand classrooms) but instead have to respect the demands of their corporate sponsors. "This afternoon's GCSE Biology lesson is brought to you by GlaxoSmithKline..."

giroscoper said...

I couldn't agree more. One has to blame Labour for this debacle as well - by starting the academies programme, they made it easier for the Tories to do something like this when they got into power.

Some of the admissions guidelines which schools are allowed to operate are already questionable (selection on the basis of religion, anyone?) but this will make things much, much worse.

The problem is that I fear Labour will have to spend much of its first term back in office in 2015 sorting out this shit.

Van Patten said...

A good point - I think the problem is that the media is profoundly ignorant of the structure of education, which has been subject to myriad changes over the past 25 years, vestiges of which have combined to create a ludicrously complex network of interconnected agencies with accountability somewhat nebulous.

I think if the coalition is serious about it's localist agenda, then it needs to judge each case on its merits, and this would be the same for Health and indeed large swathes of the public sector. I do think that LEA control is a bigger issue in somewhere like Tower Hamlets (which appears to be run by some kind of Al Qaeda offshoot judging by the stories in the Guardian and Private Eye) than in Cumbria or Northumberland (or even North Herts!)- but hey, why allow a complex picture to get in the way of a good headline?

Important considerations of pedagological methodology, infrastructure and tailoring delivery to what is actually needed in each locality are again ignored completely. Gove was the Times educational correspondent and he doesn't seem to have moved on from that soapbox style even as an MP. One things's for sure, expect more ill thought out initiatives and more bureaucracy!

giroscoper said...

VP - Michael Gove says you must return to school immediately because you used "it's localist agenda" instead of "its". But - good post!