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February 15, 2013 / politicsbitesize

The privatisation of our schools

VotingDuring her eleven years in office Margaret Thatcher managed to privatise a swathe of state owned companies.  After the 1983 election there began a wholesale sell off of utility companies such as British Gas and British Telecom, and companies owned by the nation such as British Rail and British Coal.  The impetus behind this move to the private sector was the desire to see a marked improvement in productivity and performance.

The sell off raised £29bn and, it can be argued, also raised standards within the companies that were bought out.  As counter-intuitive as it may seem to privatise national industries (after all if the state owns the companies it can control the amount it pays into the Treasury coffers, to name just one positive aspect), it makes some sort of business sense in a capitalist world.  A company owns the means of production (including the workforce) by which it manufactures goods for sale to an end user.  The overall strategy, in a capitalist system, is to manufacture something that can be sold in return for a profit.

But how does this model fit in to the proposed privatisation of our education system?  In July 2010, only two months after the Conservatives won a small majority in the general election, the Academies Act was passed.  Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, was keen to get his pet project off the ground and so the readings in the Houses of Commons and Lords of this particular act were very swift.  Some commentators have suggested that the act was passed too quickly, but the government defended its position saying that a sweeping reform of the education system was needed and needed quickly.

And so Mr Gove got what he wanted.  As of September 2012, 2,309 schools have converted to academy status.  An academy in England is a school that is no longer funded by the Local Education Authority; instead it receives public money directly from the government and, in some instances, from private sponsorship.  Each school that has become an academy is registered as a company with charitable status with Companies House and is provided with a company number.  It is this step in the conversion that has caused alarm to campaigners because, as they see it, this means that our schools are no longer simply places to educate our children but are instead becoming businesses.

On Sunday 10th February the fear that the academisation of England’s schools would lead to a change in the nature of our education establishments was realised.  In a secret memo leaked to the Independent on Sunday the full extent of Michael Gove’s plans to privatise the schools that have already been converted to academies was revealed.  According to the article, the memo states that Department of Education officials are considering ‘reclassifying academies to the private sector’ in order to cut government costs, and that they would allow academies to become profit-making entities.

In recent months it has come to light that Mr Gove’s reform of the education system has overspent by £1bn and that the future funding of each academy is costing the government too much.  But how will ‘reclassifying’ the academies to the private sector help?  Our schools aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be, businesses.  The purpose of a school is to educate children, not to turn a profit.  Schools have nothing to sell; they have no product that can be manufactured and sold for a nice little return. So how will the private sector make any money from investing in, and buying up, education establishments throughout England?

It is because this question evokes a number of worrying answers that groups such as the Anti-Academies Alliance are calling for Michael Gove to go!  To strengthen their call please sign this petition.

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