The Reality Of Gove’s Gameplan: Why Education and Privatisation don’t Mix
Take a government short of money and a vital public service. Separate the two, and find businesses to take over one thereby helping the financial worries of the other… hey presto! The privatisation of schools will solve all of our problems – or so says Michael Gove.
Allowing companies to eke out a profit for their own means as opposed to putting it straight back into our penniless education system seems morally off-balance to start off with, yet this in itself is not the greatest concern. Creating schools in order to generate an income for share-holders is starkly at odds with an ethical concern for the children who are being educated. Images spring to mind of Dickens’s darkly comic school masters who run their ‘schools’ on a shoe-string budget to benefit themselves, denying pupils any chance of an expansive or fulfilling education. Clearly the very real investors of profit-run schools lack the influence of any great author-in-the-sky to furnish them with a wayward morality compelling them to fatally abuse and mistreat their pupils to quite the same extent as, say, Wackford Squeers (the tyrannical school master of Nicholas Nickleby). But common sense would point out that shareholders’ financial incentives to deny pupils the more expensive elements of a good education (sporting facilities, school trips) might be remarkably similar to these fictionalised stereotypes.
It is clearly cheaper, for example, to employ fewer teachers who cover a wider range of subjects and who are responsible for greater numbers of pupils at any one time than it is to have specialised teachers and smaller classes. Yet to argue against the educational benefits of the more expensive system is impossible: the government themselves have previously pledged to bring down class sizes in order to support pupils and help enforce discipline.
Even more worryingly, when money comes in to each individual school from their individual share-holders who each have their individual say in how the school is run, the result is inevitably an education system in which schools differ entirely from one another, influenced by different policies and even curriculums. The current comprehensives are all state-owned, which at least allows the government to dictate certain rules such as the necessity of at least one hour sporting activity a week (much loved by students everywhere of course). But when schools are owned solely by investors the power of the government is dramatically weakened. The quality of schools will vary hugely without a basic guiding structure provided by the state, which would only aggravate the growing feeling that good school places can be somewhat of a “postcode lottery”.
At the moment the education minister has claimed only to be “open-minded” towards, rather than totally in favour of, the prospect of schools run for profit. Yet it is perhaps only the certainty of public outcry rather than a genuine indecision over the policy that delays Gove from taking a stance and pushing through the necessary legislation. We can only hope that a bid for popularity through the public rejection of this catastrophic idea will appeal to him more than his innate love of privatisation.