Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Outrageous Blackmail

The government have been struggling to reach their target of 400 academy schools. Businesses haven’t exactly been rushing to invest £2 million. Private schools have been lured with the offer that they’ll need to contribute… nothing! Lord Adonis told them, ‘we need your DNA’. Some religious groups have sponsored academies but even then the financial results are not spectacular. In May 2006 ‘The Guardian’ revealed that four academies had not received a single penny from their sponsors and of the 27 up and running only £26 million had been paid. The latest government advice is that “endowments” will be offered over the years.

On October 8 the Norfolk County Council Cabinet voted to back the Heartsease Academy – this is the takeover bid backed by millionaire former second hand car dealer turned Pentecostalist preacher Graham Dacre. At the meeting there was plenty of disinformation about Heartsease ‘causing concern’. This despite the fact that the recent Ofsted in February 2007 said it was ‘improving’ and the Key Stage 3 results were among the 100 most improved. So teachers bust a gut to improve the school and you’re still useless.

The basis for the academy vote was a public ‘consultation’, 258 responded and 62% were in favour. The governors and staff were opposed.

Other academies have selected pupils, which has meant some local pupils were unable to gain admission (ask any head the easiest way to improve results is to change the intake). Or they are based in run down communities with a high percentage of ‘challenging’ children and merely replicate previous failures.

The academy programme is hardly a triumph for local democracy, housing, social services and now education is removed from local control and handed over to charities, businesses or ‘independent’ trusts.

At the council meeting the member for children’s services Rosa Monbiot made an ‘impassioned’ speech she said,

“This opportunity to put £20m into the community will regenerate the community. Why shouldn't we give teachers improved facilities and better IT? Let's give the children the wow factor. A superb new building will inspire them and encourage them to stay on to get qualifications. We want these children and this community to do well.”

Nothing could sum up the outrageous blackmail of the academies better, the government will only invest in communities if you cede control of your school to any old dodgey creationist millionaire.

What about local democracy? Well the average age of councillors is now 58, 40% are retired. I’m not raising this as ageism, just that any council should fully reflect and represent the local community. It’s no surprise that the turnout in local elections hovers around the 30% mark.

Most Pentecostalists believe that dinosaurs only became extinct a few thousand years ago. They didn’t, they’re still here, sitting on the benches of the Norfolk County Council.


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