“Our school is being absolutely bullied, and we are sick to death of it”, said one parent outside Downhills Primary School in Tottenham, North London, after the sacking by the government of the entire board of governors. “Absolutely appalling. Almost like a dawn raid. We live in a democracy, I thought,” said another.
Teachers, parents, councillors, the local MP and the (former) governors at the school are resisting a decree by Michael Gove, the education secretary, for the school to be transformed into an business-sponsored Academy. A plan for improving Downhills was in place and working, say campaigners, and an Ofsted inspection in September bore this out.
The Academy programme, together with the encouragement of so-called Free Schools, is the principal way in which the government is fragmenting — perhaps “fracturing” would be a more accurate word – the state education system. Academies, which are better resourced, will inevitably lead to even greater social divisions as parents try to get their children into the best schools.
The old arrangement of co-operation between schools within a local authority is rapidly being replaced by competition between them. Running parallel to this assault on the state schools is the opening up of the National Health Service to the market place and to the private sector. Their plans require that services and courses of treatment be put out to tender. This will inevitably lead to the dismantling of the old NHS as a universal provider of healthcare at the point of need, as different suppliers compete for business for profit.
In its haste to transform both basic education and health provision, the ConDem coalition has been forced to face down almost universal condemnation of its plans by the professionals who work in the services. Only last weekend, in a poll conducted by the Royal College of Physicians, seven out of 10 hospital doctors wanted the health and social care bill to be withdrawn. In fact the entire medical community is almost unanimous in its opposition.
So why is the coalition government ignoring health and education professionals? We were given a clue over the weekend when it announced that national pay rates for teachers, nurses and civil servants (among others) were to be scrapped. Workers in poorer parts of the country will have their pay frozen until they come into line with local private sector rates.
In the name of “more flexibility”, “genuine decision-making at the local level” and a “modern and responsive work-force”, the government is in fact driving fast towards a society where trade unions are sidelined, an atomised society divided in countless ways, but especially in the quality of health care and education on offer to different income groups.
Driven by the rolling economic crisis and by private sector outfits expressing their “dismay” at the quality of education and demanding a slice of the NHS and education budgets, the government is feeling its way towards a new social order with tax cuts for the rich, unemployment and poverty for the working-class youth. As a statement from the Anti-Academies Alliance puts it: “There will be winners and losers, mergers and acquisitions and fear and uncertainty as the grip of corporate raiders tightens on our schools”. And on our NHS it could be added.
Looking to the Labour Party for leadership, as most of the trade union leaders still do, is the road to ruin. The last Labour governments, after all, developed the Academy programme and accelerated the privatisation process in schools and the NHS. Labour's priority, like that of the Tories and the Lib Dems, is to save the capitalist system whatever the human cost.
So how else can the gathering opposition to this government be manifested except through local people’s assemblies where all community groups — including parents, teachers, health workers and users of NHS services — can work out new policies based on the needs of the people in general? A mass challenge aimed at replacing Tory rule for good is the only option left.