It is important in the face of the government’s malicious project to downsize the NHS to the point of forced privatisation, that we don’t forget the other major attack currently being launched against the working class of this country – the academisation of our education system. The ruling class’ plan for “all schools to become academies”, as was announced in the 2016 Budget, and then clumsily retracted, is not a plan that is going to disappear for long; it is inevitable under capitalism. State education costs far too much for the government to manage, and it is much more profitable for them to hand over the responsibility to school ‘sponsors’. However, simply doing so in the public eye would never work, so they have hidden behind words like ‘academisation’ to disguise what is really going on here: privatisation.
Academies were introduced by the 1997 Labour government through the Learning and Skills Act of 2000, “to improve pupil performance and break the cycle of low expectations.” In reality, their function is the complete opposite. Academies are state-funded schools which are run by private organisations, or ‘trustees’ and ‘sponsors’, who decide on the school’s curriculum and the learning environment they wish to produce. With their power as private organisations, they will therefore select the most desirable students to enrol, and kick out those with learning difficulties or from troubled backgrounds who accidentally got accepted as part of the catchment area, and bring the school’s standards down. In short, these schools, which are funded by public taxes, often won’t accept or teach large portions of the public as it is unprofitable, and those schools that will are heavily underfunded and mismanaged.
The effect of this is an ever-widening gap between rich and poor in this, and all other capitalist countries; with the memory of the Soviet Union dirtied and forgotten, the post-war concessions made to the working class are unnecessary and illogical in consideration of the profit motive, and the ruling class no longer need to pretend they care for the workers of this country. Education, and indeed most things that would make life easier and of a higher standard for ordinary people, is only really needed, in the eyes of the ruling class, in periods of mass development (e.g. the industrial revolution, post-war rebuilding, the cold war, etc.), however with profits and development at a comfortable level for the capitalist class not to worry (for now), the expenditure on working class living standards has become wasteful for them. The gradual transition from universal state education, to academies and grammar schools, and finally a fully-privatised education system is the scheme that has begun to deliver the bosses the most profit possible, resultantly throwing the masses under the bus.
The government aren’t going to stop pushing academies on us. It is counterintuitive for them not to. The liberals may protest it in speeches and articles and do their best to appear ‘in favour of equality’, but when it comes down to it, they will happily go along with the policy of robbing the poor and giving to the rich, and so it is only a matter of time before the government makes its next bid. The plan suggested in the 2016 Budget was repealed merely as a temporary measure to appease Tory backbenchers, and it is clear that the government is continuing to pressure state schools to become ‘converter academies’, reducing state funding for ‘failing schools’ as part of an economically driven purge of public education. As of February 2014, there were 3,657 sponsored academies in England, 14% of all English schools, compared to 203 in 2010, and it has been predicted by the government that that number will have risen to over 7,000 at the end of this year . In fact, Theresa May has already begun the next phase of this war against universal education with the rebirth of grammar schools in lifting the ban on their development, essentially a step up from academies, state funded but extremely selective, an attempt to keep the privileged sections of the working class away from class consciousness.
The further privatisation of state education is something we can expect to see in the near future under the capitalist mode of production, as can be seen by the rapidity of nationwide academisation. Universal education only came about under capitalism in the post-war resistance against private enterprise by the workers who had fought for such a right, but the memory of destitution has faded, and the capitalists are realising just how little they care about the working class. To quote the CPGB-ML’s 2012 motion against cuts and privatisation in education, “As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the ruling class’s ability to provide the sop of free education to the working class in Britain is diminishing, leaving behind a third-rate education system aimed only to fit us for wage slavery or the scrapheap of unemployment… only socialism will bring free universal education for all, where the needs of the whole of society are the priority.” We have only to look at the shining example being set by Cuba (free international scholarships for medicine, highest doctor to population ratio worldwide, universal education) and the DPRK (highest literacy rate worldwide, universal education), and compare it to the educational standards of countries in similar economic positions, to understand that this is undoubtedly true.