Thursday, 6 March 2014

How two fundamental principles of state education have been destroyed.

This government has taken away from us two key pillars of the state education system:

1. Universal provision
2. Public ownership of the buildings and land of schools.

1. The idea of universal provision is that the school system must provide places for all within the statutory limits. In the UK at present that is, roughly speaking between 5 and 16. This should guarantee you 11 full years of education. Universal provision used to be provided by the local authorities - who also have a statutory requirement to secure the welfare of all children within its territorial limits - and overseen by central government. Because local authorities were in charge of the schools, it followed that looking after all children and making sure that they all went to school was the way universal provision was 'delivered'.

But this government has broken this link. As we know, children can get their education in Academies and Free Schools. In some areas, secondary education is now provided entirely by Academies. And here lies the problem: that collective of Academies does NOT have the requirement to provide education universally. The Academies or chains only have the job of educating those students who walk through their doors. Indeed, they have strong exclusion polices, whereby they throw students out of their schools, particularly if it looks as if the students will not do well in the exams by which those Academies will be assessed. Likewise there is no requirement for another Academy to take them. 

This is precisely how 'universal provision' has been broken. 

From my conversations with local authority advisers, I gather that what is happening is that the LA interprets its requirement to provide welfare for all children in its authority, as having to mop up the exclusions by providing 'off-site units'. However, such advisers are not clear as to whether they succeed in mopping up all the children and students, or not. 

All this is a fundamental break with the principles of the 1944 and 1988 Education Acts - and indeed what people fought for in the decades preceding 1944. 

Perhaps people more knowledgable than me, know how many students are being excluded from Academies, how many of these students are ending up in off-site units ('pupil referral units', PRUs) and how many are disappearing off the role altogether, particularly at the age of 15 or 16 before taking GCSEs. If you know, please post it up on my facebook or twitter thread where I'll post this article. 

2. As I've posted in a previous post, when schools convert from being local authority governance to being Academies, something happens to the buildings and land. As far as I can make out, we lose the schools and land. What was ours, held and governed by the people we elect, is now owned and governed by whoever runs that Academy. Billions of pounds of assets have been taken from us, while we go on paying for their upkeep. Whatever bi-partisan agreement between Labour, Tory and LibDem, there was about the virtue of Academies, I don't remember that there was an agreement about this matter of us giving up the property that was ours. Rather, our representatives (MPs) have just let this happen, and the one party who could and should have made a fuss about it, Labour, has been utterly silent.

So, put 1 and 2 together and we can see that in a matter of 3 years, these great changes to the education system have gone through without real debate and scrutiny.