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Proletarian issue 20 (October 2007)
Education update: Workfare, fingerprinting and PFI profiteering
Violence and art

With the recent spate of murders and attacks involving young people, various educational authorities have started to raise old concerns about the violence of films and computer games.

According to BBC News Online of 25 August 2007, “examiners have raised concerns over the amount of ‘sickeningly violent’ content in students’ creative coursework for their English GCSEs”.

No mainstream commentator has thought fit to point out that modern capitalism is by nature violent and degenerate, and that films and computer games merely reflect this reality.

The British state demonstrates the most extraordinary, uninhibited contempt for human life (as can be witnessed by the genocidal wars being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan); is it any wonder that there are children who grow up with the same attitude?

Return to workfare

The Department for Education and Skills has confirmed plans to raise the school leaving age to 18 by 2013.

Basic skills (literacy, numeracy etc) and general understanding are clearly not the concerns here. Pupils will not be required to continue with academic lessons – work-based training and ‘apprenticeships’ will be considered appropriate.

At the moment, school leavers get a job or, if they can’t find work, receive income support. Now they will be in ‘work-based training’ rather than paid employment. This sounds suspiciously like free labour!

Meanwhile, it relieves the state of the need to pay income support to under-18s, forcing them instead to do skills training without pay. This is clearly a step towards workfare.

It will be a criminal offence to breach this order. Education Secretary Alan Johnson has proposed a £50 fine.

Primary standards

Despite a £21bn spend on early years education over the last five years, a recent study of 35,000 children by researchers at Durham University found that they were “no further advanced now than they were before Labour’s overhaul of education for pre-primary school youngsters”.

The government has also pushed through expensive changes to primary education and yet, according to official figures, standards in basic maths and reading among primary school students showed no improvement this year, while writing skills dropped significantly for the second year running.

Clearly the extra spend is, rather than addressing the needs of the children in the classroom, directed at testing, extra paperwork, further layers or management and, of course, the PFI schemes that direct taxpayers' money into the hands of the capitalist class.

Profiteers’ school buildings bonanza

Recently, a £45bn scheme for new school buildings was set in motion, ostensibly with a view to “transforming all secondary schools and half of all primaries over 15 years” Half of the funding for this scheme was to come from PFIs. (‘Many new-built schools “mediocre”’, BBC News Online, 3 July 2007)

The scheme was launched to wide acclaim, and was considered to be evidence of the Labour government’s commitment to education. However, it is increasingly being exposed as a means for private companies to make a quick buck at the taxpayer’s expense.

According to a recent government-level survey, half of a sample of 52 secondary schools built in England in the last five years were at best “mediocre” . Nine of the worst ten had been built under the PFI scheme.

Three PFI schools are closing because of a lack of pupils, but, of course, councils still have to pay the bills. For example, when East Brighton College of Media Arts closed owing to a lack of students, the local authority had to pay £4.5m to release itself from the PFI contract. Balmoral High School in Belfast also closed down, but the local council there is still committed to paying £370,000 a year for the next 20 years under its PFI contract.

As we have always said, PFI is simply privatisation under another name, and should be opposed. Our call must be for free, high quality education for all, funded at state level.

Routine fingerprinting for pupils

There is increasing concern about the use of sophisticated biometric information by schools. Many schools are using fingerprinting, without so much as parental consent, in order to identify pupils.

BBC News Online reported that, “in the House of Lords, Baroness Walmsley said that the ‘practice of fingerprinting in schools has been banned in China as being too intrusive and an infringement of children’s rights. Yet here it is widespread.’”

The state is busily using technological advances massively to increase the amount of personal information it stores in databases of various kinds. This information will, of course, be used for repressive purposes when required.

Temporary fees cap

Keen to woo voters, the cabinet has announced that university top-up fees will not go above £3,000 for the next two years. Since these fees have increased by 300 percent since their introduction a few years ago, it’s difficult to be thrilled by this announcement.

University managers have been making noises about the need to increase fees to at least £6,000. It is likely that there will be a big increase in two years’ time. Meanwhile, students are still being landed with crippling debts, and the drop-out rate has increased to 20 percent.
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