The Independent reports that taking a short train journey across almost anywhere – in my case east London – and keeping an eye out for corporate signs is the best way to understand how dependent we’ve become on outfits like Carillion. As Carillion’s collapse continues and it reels from fresh allegations of dodging pension obligations while dishing out dividends, many will say the firm was just one rotten apple.
But another story broke this weekend: six of the 10 largest academy trusts have issued warnings over pay, short-staffing, building safety and financial risks. The trusts cover hundreds of English schools. There’s a disturbing whiff of Carillion about this. Inadequate state investment? Check. Unaccountable, profiteering management? Check. The lines between private and public provision relentlessly blurred, leaving both sides over-exposed? Check.
Cue the bloated executive salaries that are now commonplace. We pay for one head’s £180,000 salary and insurance on his Jaguar. Other things we’ve coughed up for include Marco Pierre White meals, broadband at holiday homes, luxury flats, sex toys and various expenses that even MPs circa 2008 wouldn’t have fleeced us for.
At the same time, teachers complain of running out of basic resources from textbooks to glue sticks.
Jaguars aside, there is a chronic funding deficit in education. We are billions short of the amount needed to get school buildings up to decent standards. We have a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, and £2.8bn in real-terms cuts sustained across education since 2015. The highly localised campaign against school cuts was an often-unsung contributor to the Tories’ loss of their majority at the general election. New funds pledged in 2017’s budget do not make up the gap, and with the moderate Justine Greening forced out as education secretary, there are risks that money will go on ideological experiments on children, such as new grammar schools.
In the latest figures Kemnal Academies Trust has eight schools in the red, there are deficits at seven of 35 ARK academies and a quarter of AET’s 66 schools are in deficit. Forty thousand children are in “zombie” academies where a new sponsor cannot be found after the previous one has dropped the school or is stripped of its powers. What happens if a big chain, or several chains, go under due to a combination of chronic underfunding and opaque governance?
We don’t know, and nor do the Department for Education. Nor are we getting any return on the risks we’re taking. England’s largest academy chain was accused by Ofsted of failing poorer pupils. Ofsted’s chief inspector has warned of “serious weaknesses” in standards at academies. There is no evidence that academies raise standards, and lots of cases where they have failed spectacularly. I would argue that successful academies are down to good teachers rather than the Tory model.
Worrying. Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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