The government is having difficulties with its new plans for education. There’s open rebellion from many backbench MPs, as well as opposition from leading figures such as ex-Labour leader Neil Kinnock and ex-Blair press secretary Alistair Campbell. Among the most provocative proposals is the idea that every Primary and Secondary school should become a “self governing trust backed by a business, charity, faith group, university or parent organisation”.
Another proposal reduces the role of Local Authorities from the direct provision of education to the management of a ‘service’ more tightly controlled by the central state. There is also a dispute over schools’ control of admission criteria.
The mainstream media has presented the disagreement as one between those parts of the Labour party that want to preserve a comprehensive system against Blair and the Tories who want to bring in privatisation through the back door.
These are all red herrings. In capitalism education has the purpose “above all to equip the new generation with abilities which can be sold on the market, and in this age of state capitalism to ensure that the new generation has the abilities necessary to strengthen the national capital against its competitors on the world market” (‘Only one other world is possible: communism’, International Review 116). This all takes place in the context of a growing economic crisis which demands drastic cuts in social spending.
Education is not ‘free’ – in any sense of the word. All the money for state education comes directly from taxation. Increasingly we are also seeing parts of the education system being left to fend for itself and thus directly charging students (or ‘customers’) for their services. The most glaring example of this is Higher Education – so-called ‘top up’ fees and the imposition of student loans since the mid 1990s. The result of this is that students come out of our ‘free’ educational system with massive debts which they spend many years paying off. This hasn’t solved the funding crisis. Many universities use the cash they charge overseas students to subsidise UK students.
As for ‘selection’ it has always existed – how could it be otherwise in a class divided society? A general education ‘for the masses’ has never been the main concern for the bourgeoisie, just so long as the basics are taught and there are adequate private schools and other institutions to cater for its own children. In recent years there have been a growing number of different ways of ‘selecting’, such as the growth in ‘faith’ schools, which don’t actually benefit students but do give sustenance to religious ideologies.
The loss by Local Authorities of a ‘meaningful’ role in education is not a new form of ‘neo-liberalism’. The government is creating a new post of ‘schools commissioner’ to ensure that LA’s will exercise their powers ‘properly’, as what is happening is actually a new form of direct control from central government. As for ‘trust status’, which will effectively turn each school into a mini-enterprise, we can foresee what will happen on the basis of all the previously privatised industries: swingeing cuts, rationalisations, speed ups, individualised contracts etc. These are not caused by privatisation; rather privatisation is used to disguise the state’s need to obey the pressures of the capitalist crisis.
This is what lies behind the government’s proposals. Huge increases in social inequality have already been a hallmark of the Labour government, and the new proposals will exacerbate this trend. Under capitalism, no matter how much money is thrown at education, the educational system will always serve the needs of the exploiters, not the exploited. Graham 02/02/06
 For a more detailed history of the British educational system see World Revolution 243 and 244.