So successful in finance, they want to run schools
IF City bankers and speculators have brought the world economy near collapse, wrecking people's homes, jobs, and lives, while George W.Bush and Gordon Brown are trying to bail out private financial institutions with public money, why do New Labour -and its Tory and Liberal Democrat opponents -persist in pretending that big business interests (along with religious outfits) are just the people to be entrusted with education?
Or, as the Anti-Academies Alliance, backed by teaching and public service unions and parents, puts it in a press statement this week:
"With the global financial system currently in meltdown, and the homes and livelihoods of millions of people under threat as a result, is it not now time to stop handing our schools over to the people largely responsible for the disaster?".
Over 100 academies - "independent" of democratic local control but favoured with public resources - have been set up. Local authorities have been given a "free choice" - either do without government help for new and improved schools or do as you are told and accept the academies scheme. Unfortunately too many local councils have accepted this, allowing the private business interests and religious organisations to step in and run schools, just as they have surrendered their housing powers, and allowed council work to be privatised.. They then wonder why people can't see the point of voting in local elections.
Despite privileged funding and facilities, and freedom to be selective, academies have had adverse reports from Ofsted, the schools inspection authority, and from the Parliamentary Accounts Committee, even from accountants Price Waterhouse. Despite this and the growing opposition, from the teaching unions and others, there are plans for another 270 academies to be set up in the next few years.
Among the organisations keen on moving into education is ARK . It sounds like a nice nursery toy, and stands for Absolute Return for Kids, but this "philanthropic co-operative", with three academies now and another 12 to come, is run by a team of trustees including merchant bankers, hedge-fund managers and "fiancial risk managers". As the Anti-Academies Alliance comments: "Apparently, these individuals have 'a wealth of experience' to bring to our schools. In reality, all they possess is an experience of wealth".
Reporting on an ARK fundraising dinner being held at Greenwich maritime academy in June, the Times noted
"Although many of Ark’s hedge fund backers seem to be doing just fine, it is also supported by some large financial institutions that are having a tough time. Sponsors of this year’s dinner include UBS and Merrill Lynch".
The charity was involved in a variety of schemes, abroad as well as in Britain.
“Philanthropy is alive and well in the City,” said Ian Wace, co-founder of Marshall Wace Asset Management, a $15 billion hedge fund and one of Ark’s founding trustees. “We are symbolic of a generation. There is a group of people, very much the new City, who are keen to make a difference.” Mr Wace and Paul Marshall, his business partner, have big ambitions for Ark. “I think our projects could be five to ten times the scale that they are today; and I think that we could be funding them at five to ten times that scale,” Mr Wace, who like Mr Marshall, is worth about £280 million according to The Sunday Times Rich List, said.
If City financiers and big business bosses just want to contribute more to education and other services why don't they pay more tax? They could still have a say in how the money was spent by voting, like the rest of us.
But that's not how bourgeois democracy works. Some while ago I reported in this blog about the struggle in the London Borough of Brent over plans to build a second city academy on a sports ground in Wembley.
Protesters noted that a Labour council was handing this to billionaire property developer Andrew Rosenfeld, a tax exile in Switzerland, who had lent big money to Labour. Rosenfeld backed off in the wake of the Labour cash-for-honours affaire, and the Lib Dems who had opposed the academy scheme gained control of Brent council - only to reverse their opposition, and decide the Wembley project should go to ARK.
Teachers and parents in Brent have continued protesting, and local people in Wembley oppose the loss of a public sports facility and what they say is a school in the wrong place, but the council is pushing ahead. A "Tent City" occupation of the site resumed when Ark proposed setting up temporary classrooms, but the bailiffs have cleared the site.
Now the protest is being taken to ARK's headquarters. Anti-Academy campaigners -"some of them dressed as
spivs (there's a word that's made a comeback!) and fat cats" - will be assembling on Friday afternoon, September 26, from 4.30 to 5.30pm outside 15 Adam Street, London WC2 6AH.
(nearest tubes Charing Cross, Embankment).