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Private Hands Off Our Education

ALL THE government's 'spin' is telling us how education and health spending won't be cut back in Gordon Brown's spending review. So why are so many teachers angry at Tony Blair's new 'five-year plan' for education?

Roger Shrives

It's because the plan, which revolves around hundreds of specialist schools and part-privately funded 'city academies', is another step back to the bad old days when only the elite could get a decent education.

Some 84% of people told a recent opinion poll that health care and education should be available to everybody, and funded from taxes. Both Labour and the Tories are disregarding this. They are obsessed with 'choice', which they use as a cover for policies of selection, discrimination and cutbacks.

The Tories blatantly say parents can have £1 billion of state cash to spend at private schools of their choice, provided of course that they can pay the rest of the bill.

Blair talks of boosting city academies, private companies that receive 100% state funding and of granting 'successful' schools a super-school status, remarketing them as independent state schools and letting them set their own pay policy and raise cash for new buildings. These are the educational equivalent of the foundation hospitals.

Linda Taaffe, a national executive member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) commented: "In 1997 when Tony Blair came into office, one of his main platforms was to stop the assisted places scheme that allowed some state school students into the privileged 'independent' sector.

"He was showing that he thought the state system was more important than the privileged private system. Now Blair wants exactly the opposite, he wants the private system to be superior to the state system and he is pumping money into the scheme - money that's much needed in state education. It's a 180 degree turn."

New Labour talks of super-foundation schools. Blair is offering a tiny minority of schools increasing 'freedom' in return for higher performance. The NUT says it would divide schools into "haves and have-nots".

If some schools were allowed to top up nationally-set pay rates if their budgets allowed it, who would gain? Mainly schools in wealthier areas where the parents could afford to chip in more money.

Who'd lose? Other schools - and most teachers who would lose the protection of nationally agreed pay rates. Blair's plans should be resisted.

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