Lame Academy

The title being a pun on the erstwhile BBC talent show… (Yes, I miss it too.)

The News Line editorial today is on the calamities facing recently-privatised schools:

THE Academy school project – to replace state owned schools, with ‘independent’, millionaire sponsored, and privately run schools, who hire the staff that they want, decide on the syllabus, and decide on rates of pay – is crashing down around the Labour government which created it.

The millionaire sponsors, now hard hit by the capitalist crisis, are no longer keen to splash their cash, and the system is proving to be grossly inferior to the local authority run state schools that they are meant to supplant.

Just where the Academy system is right now, can be seen by the crisis being undergone by the Richard Rose Academy, in Carlisle.

It was formed from a school and a college and opened just five months ago, at the gallop so to speak, with its ‘trademark’ modern buildings not even having planning permission.

It has just been put under a ‘special measures’ regime after parents complained to the schools inspectors, Ofsted.

Last Friday the academy was closed for a day as pupils staged a protest, which was supported by their parents, on the grounds that the gross understaffing of the Academy made it an unsafe place for children. Well, necessary staffing levels cost money!

Ofsted’s report, released on Wednesday evening, says that 90 per cent of parents had ‘serious concerns’ about their child’s welfare, safety and education.

The report found that the school failed to give pupils ‘an acceptable standard of education’ and that those leading it were not ‘demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvement’.

It added that ‘The academy’s senior leaders’ hired by employees of the sponsor, ‘underestimated the levels of challenge presented by the amalgamation of the two schools serving different communities’.

Parents said the main problem was an acute shortage of teaching staff which completely undermined what education programme there was.

It turns out that the children were being taught in temporary classrooms with no heating and no toilets, and that the most proficient teachers had left, leaving the teaching to relatively inexperienced supply teachers.

Such a situation would never be tolerated at a state run school.

Schools Minister Jim Knight, whose department had allowed this anarchic situation to develop, said last week that he would do all he could to turn the school around.

This statement has been greeted by parents with understandable scepticism since it is Knight’s Ministry that allowed the ‘academy’ to start without the necessary permanent buildings in the first place.

The Academy was ‘fast tracked’ by the government in its stampede to eradicate the state education system.

It did not seem to matter to the Ministry that pupils were being taught in temporary accommodation, and that this would continue to be so for a considerable period ahead. Even if the permanent buildings got planning permission, they would take some time to be built – that is if they were going to be built at all.

Christine Blower, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: ‘The Richard Rose Academy is a victim of the government’s fixation with private providers for education. The fast track to opening this Academy has left pupils, parents and the local community without a well functioning school.

‘Richard Rose Academy should return to the local authority which can provide support and back-up.’
Academies must be scrapped, and free state education restored with proper funding.

This means that all students’ fees must be scrapped and full living grants restored to every student to restore the right of free state education to every young person.

Students give Palestinians a better kind of occupation

In the seventies and eighties, there was a movement in this country opposed to apartheid in South Africa. It looks as though a comparable movement is developing now against Israel’s occupations…

From Socialist Worker:

Student occupations in solidarity with Gaza spread around Britain online only

A wave of student occupations in solidarity with the people of Gaza is continuing to spread across Britain. There are currently occupations at Kings College London and Oxford, Sussex, Newcastle and Kingston universities. There have also been sit ins at Warwick and Manchester Metropolitan.

These have been inspired by successful protests and occupations at Soas and LSE in London and Essex University. The first three occupations have all ended now, as their main demands have been met.

In Oxford more than 80 students have occupied the historic Bodleian building.

The demands put forward by individual universities are similar, but vary depending on the specific circumstances of each institution. Oxford’s give a typical flavour.

  1. Statement
    Oxford University should release a statement in support of the right of Palestinians to education and its support to the Palestinian Academic community. The University should condemn in particular the attack on the Islamic University in Gaza.
  2. Divestment
    Oxford University currently holds investments in BAE Systems, a firm that the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (caat.org.uk) states provides weapons and ammunition for the Israeli military. This means that our university is being directly funded by the Israeli war on Gaza. Oxford University must divest from BAE and other companies which supply arms to Israel.
  3. Five fully paid scholarships for Palestinian students
    Particularly after the attack on Gaza and the ongoing hardships suffered by Palestinians, Oxford University should offer 5 fully-funded scholarships to Palestinian students as a way to contribute to greater access to education for those affected by the conflict.
  4. Cancellation lecture series inaugurated by Shimon Peres
    The group demands that the Master of Balliol College cancel the lecture series that was inaugurated by the Israeli President Shimon Peres. It is not appropriate to have such a lecture series in light of the attack on Gaza and the ongoing siege.
  5. Resources for Education
    The Oxford University should donate resources to, and support, the University and educational infrastructure that have been bombed in Gaza.
  6. Right to Peaceful Protest
    Oxford University has a proud history of student activism. Students united to campaign against apartheid, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All students have a democratic right to peaceful protest and students should not be prevented from expressing their opinions by fear of reprisals.

Occupation blogs

Essex » www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=45143838671

Kings » kcloccupation.blogspot.com

LSE » lseoccupation.blogspot.com

Oxford » occupiedoxford.wordpress.com

Soas » soassolidarity4gaza.blogspot.com

Sussex » sussexoccupation.blogspot.com

Warwick » warwicksolidaritysitin.wordpress.com

The following should be read alongside this article:
» Eyewitness report: Israel is guilty of war crimes
» Gordon Brown gives Israel a licence to kill
» Israel’s bloody war fails to achieve aims
» Beirut conference calls for solidarity with Palestine
» A revival of student militancy over Gaza
» Activists take to the streets against the slaughter in Gaza
» Councillors condemn Israeli terror
» London demo targets Israeli embassy
» Mass march in Middlesbrough
» Gaza protests continue around Britain
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (1)
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (2)
» Pictures of Gaza protests around Britain (3)

PE teacher sacked for wearing track suit & trainers!

Adrian Swain has for the last 35 years worn a track suit and trainers. As George Galloway has noted “Of all the difficulties facing children in Tower Hamlets – poverty, overcrowding, lack of resources, and an education system geared to testing not teaching – it is truly astonishing that a well liked and experienced teacher has been sacked for what he was wearing on his feet.”

And what makes it amazing is that “he is, amongst other things, a PE teacher”.

Workers take action to defend Adrian Swain

Staff at St Paul’s Way School in Tower Hamlets, East London, will demonstrate outside the town hall at 3.30pm on Friday 16 January to protest against the sacking of Adrian Swain – the socialist, Permanent Revolution member and NUT activist sacked for failing to comply with a new dress code by wearing trainers and tracksuit bottoms.

Adrian was sacked on the last day of term in December. Since then, the story has received huge media attention, getting picked up in turn by the East London Advertiser, the Evening Standard, Associated Press, the Metro, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. It was one of the BBC News website’s top 10 stories over the Christmas, and Adrian has been interviewed on ITV, BBC regional news, Radio Five Live, Radio 4 and BBC Radio London’s Vanessa Feltz programme.

In all the coverage, Adrian stresses the same point again and again: that his “offence” was wearing trainers and tracksuit bottoms, as he has done for 35 years! These items of clothing are now proscribed under the code, which is operated under the catch all command to “dress professionally”, a fashion sense entirely at the discretion of the head.

Management’s treatment of Adrian was, of course, motivated not by his fashion sense, but by their desire to attack a longstanding union and socialist militant in a school group that has stood up to them for years.

The failure of the East London Teachers’ Association to support the campaign, due to the SWP and others in the Socialist Teachers’ Alliance including national executive member and Association secretary Alex Kenny, is one the reasons why Adrian has not already been reinstated. On the second day back after Christmas, the St Paul’s Way NUT school group passed a resolution stating:

“SPW NUT group reaffirms its urgent request for a ballot for discontinuous strike action. The objective of this strike action is to secure Adrian’s unconditional reinstatement. By unconditional we mean that his reinstatement is not dependent on his adherence to the imposed dress code. We would expect this strike action to be sustained, as is almost always the case with disputes involving individual school groups. After an initial day of strike action, we would expect the action to escalate rapidly (i.e. by the next week) if Adrian is not reinstated. We are committed to taking as much action as is necessary to achieve our objective. We ask the ELTA Secretary to inform us of the Action Committee meeting that will discuss our request and to arrange for a delegation from the SPW NUT group to attend the meeting.”

The NUT Action Committee has now agreed to the request to a ballot. More soon, it seems.

Demonstrate 3.30pm, Friday 16 January, @ Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Mulberry Place, Clove Crescent, London E14 2BG (East India or Blackwall DLR)
For the Facebook group “Friends of Adrian Swain”, see here.

Drop the dead dogma – privatisation isn’t efficient or cheap!

Two items from Tribune on health and education show that New Labour are far from burying the failed neo-liberal model.

First, healthcare:

UNISON has urged the government to rethink its whole approach to NHS reforms in the wake of a damning new report on the cost of commissioning and outsourcing in the health service.

The public sector union has called on the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, to concentrate on giving NHS patients the care they need and deserve – as well as ensuring the taxpayer gets real value for money – rather than using health service reforms as a smokescreen to outsource or privatise services and “throw precious money away to the private sector”.

The call comes in the wake of a hard-hitting new report – called Driven by Dogma – from the Office for Public Management. In a damning verdict it says outsourcing in the NHS has failed to deliver value for money, proper patient involvement or improved working conditions for staff.

The Government’s pre-Budget report made much of the potential efficiency savings to be made by the NHS from shared service operations with the private sector. But first hand evidence in the new report, examining the experience of those commissioning and delivering services, reveals that promised cost benefits have failed to materialise and quality has suffered.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “At a time when finances are increasingly tight, the NHS cannot afford to be throwing precious money away to the private sector and wasting time and resources on the complexity of the commissioning process.

“Patients want more involvement in decision-making and staff want to spend more time on providing excellent patient care rather than tendering for contracts.

“Unfortunately, this report shows that the various reforms to outsource or privatise parts of the NHS are working against these goals.”

The union says there are realistic alternatives – Scotland has recently announced it will no longer permit any contract cleaning and Wales has done away with the purchaser-provider split in favour of a more sensible and user-friendly integrated system.

Second, education:

TRADE unions have hit out at plans by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills to privatise parts of the schools inspection service.

According to a leaked memo, Ofsted intends to outsource inspections of early education and childcare provision early next year.

It says privatising early years inspections – which ensure nurseries, pre-school provision, summer play schemes and childminding services are safe and secure and meet educational standards – will “provide better outcomes and save money” but Unison, the PCS and the FDA senior civil servants’ union say the idea is wrong is principle and bad in practice.

Unison national officer Jon Richards said: “It is outrageous that Ofsted is privatising early years inspections. Parents need to have confidence in the inspection system and know their children are safe and will be well cared for.

“There is a very real danger that jobs will go and the quality of inspections will fall if the focus shifts from raising and maintaining standards to cutting costs and making a profit.

“The decision to privatise inspections has serious implications for staff, parents and children.”

PCS national officer Neil March said: “Introducing the profit motive into inspections, combined with the naive belief that ‘the market’ has all the answers, will end in failure and further demoralise dedicated staff. It will lead to corners being cut and a loss of expertise.”

The unions think Ofsted wants to “wash its hands” of staff. Mr Richards said: “It has hundreds of equal pay cases outstanding and this is a crude attempt to deal with the problem as the workers pursuing these claims will be the ones to go.”

Contractors lose private data again – key govt IT system is shut down

(a press release from the Campaign for Public Ownership)

The Mail on Suinday reports:

An inquiry has been launched after a memory stick with user names and passwords for a key government computer system was found in a pub car park.

A spokeswoman said the matter was being taken “extremely seriously” and the Gateway website had been shut down.

She said the “integrity” of the website – which provides services including tax returns – had “not been compromised”.

The memory stick was lost by Daniel Harrington, 29, an IT analyst at computer management firm Atos Origin.

The multinational company, which boasts an annual turnover of £4billion, won the five-year £46.7million contract to manage the Government Gateway in 2006.

The same company has been selected to supply IT systems for the London 2012 Olympic Games

Sounds familiar?

Back in August, data including the names, addresses and dates of birth of around 33,000 offenders in England and Wales with six or more recordable convictions in the past 12 months on the Police National Computer were lost by the private company PA Consulting, contractors for the Home Office. Also lost were the names and dates of birth of 10,000 prolific and other priority offenders, and the names, dates of birth and, in some cases, the expected prison release dates of all 84,000 prisoners held in England and Wales.

In December it was announced that US firm Pearson Driving Assessments, a contractor to the Driving Standards Agency, had lost the details of three million candidates for the driving theory test. Pearson reported that a hard drive was missing from a “secure facility” in Iowa.

And of course earlier this summer we had the news that thousands of British schoolchildren would have to wait until the autumn for key test results after the US-owned company brought in to administer the tests ‘ETS Europe’ failed to deliver on time.

It’s time for this nonsense to stop.

After this latest fiasco is there anyone still willing to argue that the increased involvement of the private sector in the business of government has led to greater efficiency?

It is logical to assume that the more outside agencies that handle government data, the greater the likelihood of it getting lost. But logic, it seems, goes out of the window where Britain’s political elite and their blind attachment to neo-liberal dogma is concerned.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, before the days of privatisation and sub-contracting government work to private companies, such loss of data never occurred.

The Campaign for Public Ownership calls on the government to end the sub-contracting of government work to private companies and to keep all such work ‘in-house’.

Not only would this reduce the chance of data going missing, it would also save the taxpayer a small fortune in paying for inefficient private companies.

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