Monday 11 June 2012

The Gove-Murdoch vision of schools: Unfree and profitable

One of the hardest things to do in politics is spot change as it's happening and I won't pretend that I'm any better at it than anyone else. So excuse me for a moment while I try to read the runes on what Tory Education Policy is really all about.

As many of us are noticing, there is an apparent contradiction between statements that ministers make about schools becoming more free to determine their own finances, curriculum and teaching methods and authoritarian actions and statements from the Secretary of State.

Here's Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, on May 12 2012:

" At the heart of this programme is a move away from a top-down, prescriptive model of education – with lever arch files full of guidance and painstakingly specific schemes of work – to a system that enhances and increases the independence of teachers. "

(taken from here: )

Yet, it's clear from the way Michael Gove is behaving towards forcing schools to become Academies (see here especially the Save Downhills Campaign:   )

and the way he is behaving towards the curriculum (see here:

that the old authoritarian streak is alive and well. Telling Year 1 teachers that they must make children recite poetry is a far cry from Nick Gibb's 'system that enhances and increases the independence of teachers'.

But perhaps this is all starters for the main meal. Perhaps there is another agenda going on. I think so.

Let's look again at this article telling us about a Gove-Murdoch axis in relation to education:

This tells us that Murdoch had a plan to enter the education 'market' in several ways at the same time. As other major media and software corporations are discovering, Murdoch's News Corp have figured out that they could spend much less effort and capital competing in the 'open market' of education materials and assessment if they could enter the market higher up the food chain: that is to say, if they can secure total control over the provision of materials via internal internet systems (sometimes called 'intranet') which are pumped into schools to run curricula.

Let's be clear here. We know that state education buys in products. We've attended conferences where the publishers and educational companies compete to sell stuff to teachers. Some of us (me included) writes books that are sold into schools. This is a market. The halls where some of this trade goes on, on the fringes of conferences and the like, often resemble street markets, anyway! So no illusions. The education 'market' isn't socialism. It is what it says it is: the market.

However, teachers - usually heads of department and management - decide what to buy. They make decisions on the basis of what they've heard and thought about - often at conferences - and bring those materials into school where they have to be 'bedded down' through discussion and use.

Under the last government, much of this was over-ruled by an incredible outpouring of anonymous booklets stipulating what should be taught and how. For much of the time, these became substitutes for that market. It was a form of nationalisation of the school curricula, teachers' and children's minds. It was also an expensive disaster and was mysteriously and silently ditched in the last days of the NewLabour project. The teams of people who contributed to those programmes will never have to answer for the expense and waste. I think this is shameful.

At first, it appeared as if the libertarianism of the new young Tories was going to take the pedal off this authoritarian tank, bulldozing its way through staffrooms and classrooms. (see Nick Gibb's statement above). It seems to me that what is now taking place is a conspiracy by Tory ministers to create a schools structure which will enable a small group of major corporations to take over the curriculum and assessment of education.

What is going on here, is that the libertarian reflex (Tory model) is not about professional freedom, or children's freedom, or families' freedom. It's about opening up an area that had been under state control to major corporations. The internet and its child, the intranet, are the means by which this will be done. And we have to be clear, this is not about that street market trading on the edge of conferences. This is major corporations taking over the curriculum, putting it out of the control of teachers and pupils, locking it into assessment schemes, all packaged up and delivered according to a highly centralised, authoritarian set of requirements from central government. There ain't nothing free about it at all.

But of course the heart of it all is money and profit, guaranteed and secured by government diktat. Never mind the irony that this is a Tory government picking up on New Labour's central control but handing over billions of profit to a tiny handful of major corporations. And let's remind ourselves that the source for this money comes, our taxation, levied to pay for education with a top-slice handed over as profit. Government will be the channel through which our taxes will be siphoned off into Education Business's shareholders' pockets.

This is the true shape of Tory 'freedom'.