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Labour's choice in education is no choice at all

Ken Smith

 

Labour's manifesto talks about greater choice and greater diversity. This will mean people will have a greater diversity or choice of private companies ripping them off when providing public services.

Their education plans talk of more independent specialist schools and new educational providers. This means for a minimum down payment of 10% or less of the cost of a city academy, educational providers such as big companies and religious bodies can have an unprecedented say in the intake of schools and what is taught in them.

Labour's talk of more choice will mean more schools choosing which pupils they take rather than parents being allowed to have the choice of sending their children to a well-funded school.

Blair's mantra of 'education, education, education' has become 'disaster, disaster, disaster'.

Disaster 1  Academies:   Even by the very narrow measurements beloved by New Labour Academies have failed, even in improving exam results. The evidence that has come out so far shows that exam results are deteriorating rather than improving under academies.

Disaster 2  Private Finance Initiatives (PFI):    A 340 million PFI scheme in Tower Hamlets came to grinding halt when construction company Ballast PLC went bust in 2003. Dozens of schools built under PFI could have a lifespan of under 20 years but local authorities will be forced to maintain their PFI contracts.

Disaster 3  Class sizes:  Last year English primary schools lost 800 teachers who were not replaced and class sizes increased. The pupil-teacher ratio in Britain lags behind all other developed countries except Czech Republic, Mexico, Korea and Turkey. The average UK state school primary now has 26.8 pupils compared to an OECD average of 22.1.

Socialist candidates are taking up the issue of the growing crisis in education in their campaigns. In Leicester and Walthamstow our candidates have been prominent in campaigning against city academies. A number of the Socialist candidates are teachers who have to face the crisis day in and day out.

Leicester West Socialist Party parliamentary candidate Steve Score, who is standing against Patricia Hewitt, said today: "The state of education in Leicester is a nightmare for parents and pupils. The Socialist Party recently campaigned against six special schools being closed. The parents, particularly of children with learning difficulties, are irate. Without real consultation or any debate, the council wants to shut down successful schools.

There's a massive scheme for rebuilding Leicester's secondary schools with PFI involvement. But that will bring a 100 million funding shortfall over 25 years. This will inevitably come from cuts in school budgets.

And this money's all going into secondary schools while primary schools are in total disrepair. A front-page article in the Leicester Mercury in February showed that school teachers were required to wear hard hats to avoid bits of the ceiling of a store room falling on them and they've netting down the corridors to stop debris falling on the children.

The councillors say they're 'aware' of repairs but can't say when they'd be done. So while they're trumpeting all the money coming in from private finance, primary schools are actually falling down!"

 

April 2005

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