Tuesday, September 06, 2011

How Long Will Free Schools be Free?

Is Nick Clegg naïve or just plain deliberately misleading under the ‘it’s not us; it’s the Tories’ umbrella? While he is saying the new free schools must be inclusive and not divisive, I can only think of the student fees fiasco and the broken promises made there.

Has he answered the question of why the first round of free schools is more or less in more affluent areas? No. Has he explained how he intends to force his issue if the Tories manipulate free schools to favour the wealthier parent? No. Should the Tories win the next election outright, how does he intend stopping them from allowing free schools to be profit motivated?  

The way the free schools legislation has been written facilitates this or a future government’s ability to make free schools elitist, based not on academic ability or need but on ability to pay. The way is paved to allow a future government to not just allow, but to insist they are profit motivated; education at a premium; and that could leave local authorities, who currently fund the free schools out of pocket. It is, as this administration is only too aware, almost impossible to reverse such actions.

Is that the plan? Fund free schools with tax payer’s money, then hand them over to their rich supporters to profit from them with little or no cost? And to put another nail in the coffin of local authorities, further weakening their financial position because they have funded the free schools?

Mr Clegg can wax lyrical all he wants about how he sees free schools working. But his party, which is itself divided on the issue, is a junior member of the coalition,  and I have to say once again that the student fees issue show us how much sway the LibDems really have in the coalition. Or if you want to be cynical, it shows us how the LibDems can espouse a cause, only to renege on it later, blaming the impositions of the coalition.

When the next round of free schools begins, in the less affluent areas, what happens if or when the poorer local authorities cannot afford to fund them? Does the coalition bring in private industry, with a profit motive? Or just leave them to decay, physically and intellectually.

Michael Gove has already said that the free school system did not need profit motive “at the moment”. Anybody who doesn’t believe that is political-speak for “its coming” is kidding themselves.

When asked on the Andrew Marr show about the future Michael Gove said "Well we're in a coalition now, and we're working to ensure that we get more free schools."  That avoided the question completely. It also suggests that while in the coalition, they will for now play the coalition game; but that plans are in place for a post coalition administration to change the rules.

At the moment, free schools are paid a premium for taking pupils from disadvantaged areas and backgrounds. When the inevitable private and profit motivated money comes in, that will change. The funders, shareholders, call them what you will are sure to demand the right to fund where and how they see fit and to run the ‘free’ schools to their (the shareholders) best advantage. And they will win, because if they don’t, the private money will dry up; no government could allow that to happen, and as I have already postulated, it will be very difficult for a future government to allow this to happen and reverse the free schools experiment. It is and will be a fait accompli.

But there is a more fundamental issue here. It is the issue of publicly funded industries being sold off, at frankly peppercorn prices to private industry. It is something the Tories have always done. Yet suggesting a privately owned utility, such as water should be returned to the public domain is met with cries of outrage; that it is unfair to investors and shareholders. Well stealing tax-funded public services to hand over to wealthy businessmen is, in my view at least equally abhorrent; and the more so for playing the shady game with education.

But my greatest fear, the thing that becomes more apparent by the week to me is the ultimate aim of government policy that subverts the will of the people; the intention to ensure that the working class, and to some extent the lower middle class receive poorer education and poorer health care, thus making them impotent in the face of authoritarian government; the idea of ensuring the jobs that retain the power to change the system stays with the rich elite from public schools, the mere mention of whose name opens doors.

It isn’t just in education and health care. It is in every aspect of government policy if considered as a whole, rather than considering each area of policy in isolation. It can be seen in the inaction of the police in the recent riots enabling government to promote draconian legislation that will affect us all, not just rioters. It can be seen in genetically modified food, the consumption of which could have effects of which we are not and cannot be aware. It is in the enforced fluoridisation of water, with industrial waste, not the supposedly beneficial, clean fluoride government pronouncements would have us believe are used. It is in the dumbing down of planning legislation from 1,000 to 52 pages, with the possibility of ancient woodland and green belt land being exploited by wealthy developers; and who enjoys this land? Yes, you and me, the ordinary folk. What will be the long term affects on health when trips to the countryside are no longer possible? And what is the point of the right to roam if there is nowhere to go?

Of course, the rich will still have their large homes and adjoining land to enjoy.

As Joni Mitchell sang- “They paved paradise, to put up a parking lot”

Maybe we’ll be lucky. Perhaps they’ll take “all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum”.  Wonder how much they’ll charge us to get in?


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