One of the aspects of the Budget that received some attention at the time was the announcement that all schools in England will become academies. This will be one of the most drastic changes in the English education system for a generation and will be terrible for students, teachers, and parents. The Chancellor’s motivation is a desire to centralise power in Whitehall, which runs contrary to his apparent belief in ‘localism’. It is this hypocrisy that people are starting to become away of but also that the Tory education ‘reforms’, despite the justification of it being about raising standards, are only about money.
The academies programme has been used by the Conservative Party as a power grab away from local authorities whilst also dismantling the state’s role in education. This may seem like a contradictory statement but that’s because it is an issue of layers of governance. The Tories wanted to ’empower headteachers’ and the way they wanted to do that was to let them, among other things, opt out of the national curriculum. In this regard the Tories are reducing the role of the state because the national curriculum breaks down as a concept if it is not national.
Furthermore it will lead to a massive amount of variation in education. Don’t get me wrong, variation is often a good thing because it can give students the opportunity to learn a broad range of subjects that are not considered as stereotypically usual. The variation I am talking about is in the specifics of core subjects and will result in students in Dorset learning a different maths curriculum than those in Newcastle. How will employers be able to ascertain people’s level of maths skills if they can’t use the GCSEs or A-Levels because the curricula taught varies greatly from place to place?
For example, a school may decide to focus its maths curriculum on things like percentages and fractions so it will help students specialise in finance. In this situation, however, if a student wanted to then go to university to become a structural engineer or an architect that student would be totally ignorant of trigonometry. Obviously this situation is an unlikely one but we shouldn’t have an education system that can allow it to happen.
The academies programme under the Tories has been also used to introduce the private sector into the education system. Companies have sprung up whose express purpose is to run schools like franchises. These companies hire headteachers like they are corporate managers and schools are run for a profit. There can be no justification for running schools for profit and academies are part of the reason for this marketisation of the English educational system. The Chancellor should not have made this ludicrous announcement, and I would hope that a prospective Labour administration would take steps to bring back the national curriculum and end the privatisation of education.
The other two mentions of education in this Budget were less controversial. The Chancellor announced that secondary schools will be able to bid for additional funding to provide extra-curricula activities. The Chancellor also outlined that proposals to make students take compulsory maths lessons until the age of 18 will be considered. The only qualm I would have about the latter of these two is that is ‘until age 18’ a euphemism for until the second year of sixth form because if it isn’t that would cause administrative problems for individual schools. For example if a student turned 18 in March then would they have to do lessons for the entire year, or would they stop in March. Similarly would classes begin in September with the entire year in maths lessons with these numbers declining until the end of the year as students turned 18?
As I said these are largely uncontroversial but it does seem to contradict what the Chancellor believes in regards to education. If he believed in localism and that the national curriculum gets in the way of headteachers, why is he thinking of introducing compulsory maths lessons for students until 18? The Chancellor’s Budget is about finances, obviously, but it is also about politics. As long as certain policies remain popular with Tory voters the Chancellor will keep enacting them even if they overtly appear to contradict his ideological beliefs.
The announcement on academisation should be seen as what it is- putting the introduction of the private sector into the education system on steroids. By making all schools in England into academies the Chancellor has made a profound ideological statement. By announcing this policy Osborne has stated that local authorities shouldn’t run schools and that for-profit corporations not only have a role in the education system but should be an integral part of it. Teachers, parents and student should unite against this proposal and work to defeat the Chancellor’s exercise in ideological vandalism.