Value for Money and Power Education

No action can have a single consequence.

Can the stated purpose of an action distract us from considering its several unstated/understated consequences?

Can unstated consequences be unstated purposes?

Can/does the iceberg profundity of the governmental decision/action to academise all English schools have a single consequence/purpose?

Academisation of our schools involves more than education. It also involves money, property, power, politics, cartel-control, democratic freedom, governance and accountability, to name but some of the areas of our lives it affects/controls, now in the future.

Some questions:

    • Where are the visible, accountable and promptly enforceable systems to prevent these private business-charities from charging and functioning for their benefit rather than that of our children? [Consider the “Too Big to Fail/Bail banking cartel and our £1,029 billion enforced gift to them!]
    • Ditto systems and consequences to deal with any academies/academy business chains “top-slicing”? [Moving tax-payers money from where it connects directly with the pupil/student to the pay and/or benefits of senior members of the academy organisation]
    • Ditto systems and consequences to prevent the pay, terms and conditions of those working consistently closely with the pupils/students being reduced to benefit senior members of the organisation and/or raise the financial surplus/”profits” and/or take a “bigger hit” in the lowering of costs? [This would further weaken our “Real World” economy by reducing its aggregate demand.]
    • Where are visible, accountable and promptly enforceable procedures which address how organisations/businesses labelled as charities manage and account for the movement of monies away from the stated and/or implied “charitable beneficiary” [Here the pupil/student] towards those who control the business?
    • Ditto rules for the management, visibility, and accountability of expenses? [MPs?]
    • Is it the case that Lords Harris and Fink, reportedly significantly connected to academy chains, gave some £500,000 and £2.6 million to the Conservative Party?
    • If the Education Secretary wants those running schools to have greater “freedom and flexibility, more control and creativity”, why not take the straightforward, locality-focused and democratic option of legislating for these attributes and encouraging them? [Are/will all the academy charities encouraging/tolerant of a range of religious beliefs?]
    • Why force parents, teachers, other school staff and interested members of communities to become customers, direct and indirect, instead of empowered, responsible, knowledgeable, “close to the actual children”, citizen stakeholders?

Two of the most powerful tools for the management/control of us, the general public, are the “Mainstream Media” and the majority educational system.

Most of the “MSM” is controlled, if as invisibly as possible, by a small cartel. Some parts are private business pursuing their private interests. Others are presented as independent pro-bono organisations, [including the BBC] aka charities/quasi charities. However their organisational and financial/pay structures show them to be self-focused businesses. [BBC senior management salary bill: c. £52 million]

An education system divorced from democracy would be no different. Academisation destroys the democratic involvements, supports, checks and balances essential for an educational system which enables a people and keeps them free in mind, purse and wallet.

* Steve Trevathan is chairperson of Lyme Regis and Marshwood Vale Liberal Democrats.

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17 Comments

  • Denis Mollison 19th Apr '16 - 9:21am

    Well said.

    Glad I live in academy-free Scotland.

  • Yes…. Agree with Steve and my near neighbour Denis,

    The move to Academy status is fuelled by the Tory version of neo-liberalism – based on the notion of public service ‘bad’ – private business (and hence unaccountable) ‘good’.

    Of course the Daily Mail (owned by the Non-Dom Rothermere clan) fuels the envy of salaries bandwagon in the public service which is usually meretricious and inaccurate. What the Daily Mail doesn’t say is that it’s Editor was paid £ 1.5 million in 2015 (ten times the PM’s salary).

    More accurately it’s only a month since, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Chief Inspector of Ofsted wrote of seven Academy Chains in a letter to the Secretary of State for Education.:

    “Given these worrying findings about the performance of disadvantaged pupils and the lack of leadership capacity and strategic oversight by trustees, salary levels for the chief executives of some of these MATs do not appear to be commensurate with the level of performance of their trusts or constituent academies,” wrote Sir Michael.
    “The average pay of the chief executives in these seven trusts is higher than the prime minister’s salary, with one chief executive’s salary reaching £225,000”.

  • Well that is an odd mix of legitimate concerns and some totally illegitimate insinuations.

    Lord Harris made lots of money over his career setting carpets (if people want to look down on selling carpets they need to have a long hard look at themselves) he has (from what I can see) donated significant sums of money to educational purposes. The insinuations in the link claims that Harris “owns the Harris Federation” when the Harris Federation (according to their own public declarations) is “a company limited by guarantee and a charitable trust” so a regular structure for a charity.

    From the limited amount I know about it I have concerns about the Harris Federation strategy and whether they actually get the most form their staff, however that is not to say that it is a method of taking money from children to profit an individual.

    Too many seem to let their hatred of the Tories make them overreach. Never hate your enemy, it clouds your judgement.

  • Enough of the irritating task of defending people I have no interest in defending. There are some legitimate concerns in here.

    The tendency of salary escalators to take off when Schools are independent needs to have a mechanism that applies pressure in the other direction. Mechanisms could be developed that would do this without the need for direct control.

    A mechanism for preventing a form of “transfer pricing” to ensure that there is no incentive for unscrupulous people to become involved. Again it wouldn’t need to have direct control but could still prevent abuse.

    As to the question of how to “prevent the pay, terms and conditions of those working consistently closely with the pupils/students being reduced” well provided the money is prevented from being syphoned off to unscrupulous third parties or excessive remuneration for senior management then the funds would be available for paying staff. Greater flexibility may be a loss for some but a gain for others, there are a significant number of (predominantly female) staff that were disadvantaged by the previous system too. The “losers” in any change always scream louder than those who could gain. With the current trouble retaining teachers there is plenty of market forces to keep the salaries up.

    More general methods of ensuring accountability and transparency are important and would be a potential area ripe for development but all I hear is a demand for a return to LEA control. There should be a local government element in account ability but where you have account ability and control in the same place you are going to suffer from conflicts of interest.

    For the concerns about “businesses labelled as charities” syphoning off charities assets there are legal responsibilities that would kick in so if nay business was going to consider that a possible route they would be running a very high risk of at least falling foul of civil law and easily could find themselves on the wrong side of the criminal law. The best solution to this would be to increase enforcement resources relating to charities.

  • @ Psi Have you considered the value of the sites and land transferred to the Harris group in London, and if so, what capital appreciation there has been on this in the last ten years ?

    Do you agree that this represents a major loss to the public sector ?

  • David Raw

    “Have you considered the value of the sites and land transferred to the Harris group in London”

    What land has been transferred to the “Harris Group?”

    The Harris Federation is a charity and not the same thing as Lord Harris’ business interests (assuming he is still active in that side of things).

    As I understand it land has been transferred to Charities which either are individual schools who then make up the Academy chains or to the chains that are charities so the assets are held in the charities for the purpose of fulfilling their charitable purpose.

    “Do you agree that this represents a major loss to the public sector?”

    Well that depends on your priority. I consider the delivery to be important not who is running it. If it is a government department (/executive agency/Quango) or a Charity is irrelevant to me. If English Heritage decides it can’t take care of a historic site and instead transfers it to the National Trust, this is by your definition a “major loss to the public sector” but to me it is a charity taking it over from a government executive agency so the public continue to have the use of the site so no loss to the public.

    There are some concerns that appear to be legitimate over the high pay in some areas and perhaps some issues of some “transfer pricing” arrangements that should be investigated and responded to. But suggestions that individuals are personally profiting need solid evidence based upon a proper understanding of what the legal structures are.

    If people have evidence of wrong doing I’m happy to hear it and I’m sure the police and charity commission would be too. I have yet to hear anything that sounds remotely incriminating.

  • @ Psi So the Charity can’t sell off a parcel of a playing field to a third party for house building under any circumstances then ?

    PS. I don’t shelter behind a wall of anonymity and I think your postings would have more force if you took the same attitude. Your post implies some sort of inside knowledge and it would be helpful to know if you have any vested or connected interest to declare. Openness is an old fashioned sort of liberalism to which some of us happen to be quite attached.

  • David Raw

    “So the Charity can’t sell off a parcel of a playing field to a third party for house building under any circumstances then?”

    They can but would have to be at fair value and funds used for the charitable purpose. In the same way LEA playing fields were sold off and funds spent on schools. So no difference.

    If you have a problem with anonymity I suggest you have amassed with addressing arguments not those making them. My knowledge of Harris Federation consists of only info in the public domain and several 3rd hand accounts of former employees (hence why I am not convinced they are getting the most of their staff.

    My concern is that I’m a liberal so believe in the ruler law and don’t like to see accusations made about people that look to smear people. If people have done something wrong they need to be held toaccount, if they haven’t they deserve to be protected from claims of wrong doing. It’s a basic expectation I think most people would support, odd that this causes you to suspect ulterior motives.

  • Additionally I have an issue with the approach I have seen on here where people attacked opponents (in this example Harris) on the basis that they were too “low brow” to be allowed to be taken seriously. Claims of “just a carpet salesman” grate with me, many people run businesses that are simple or even work for those businesses. I suppose that does create one more connection to me I have been a customer of carpetright in the past.

  • “The best solution to this would be to increase enforcement resources relating to charities.” Psi

    From my interactions with the Charity Commission over the years, and the growth of CIC’s and the third sector, I think this is an area that is in need of attention and investment.

  • Roland

    “I think this is an area that is in need of attention and investment”

    I agree, I’ve never understood why it is such a neglected area when discussion comes up. It does make a mockery of the claims of the Tories prior to 2010 with their desire for a “big society” when they were not willing to provide resources to the CC.

  • Paul Holmes 20th Apr '16 - 1:24pm

    @Psi – I have not really witnessed people like Harris being criticised because they are ‘low brow’ but rather because they are being put in charge of considerable numbers of schools/pupils even though they know nothing about education.

    For example, I was a teacher for 23 years, a member of the Education and Skills Select Committee for most of my 9 years in Parliament and have visited and studied education systems in a number of other countries. I know a fair bit about education but would not as a result expect the Government to hand over to me a chain of failing businesses (be they Carpet shops or Widget making factories) in order to try and ‘turn them around’. Why then would we expect the best people to turn failing schools around to be a Carpet salesman or a Hedge Fund Millionaire? -to name two examples.

  • Sue Sutherland 20th Apr '16 - 2:55pm

    The Tories are getting a lot of criticism from their own back benchers and local parties about this, so the Education Secretary was doing a bit of back pedalling yesterday. It would be good if all our Councillors and/or activists can get a local debate going about this because the Government is likely to try to get a compromise with its internal opponents. We must be ready to attack that compromise too because this policy is absolute madness. Parents are still unlikely to have much of a choice between schools, unlike those in the private sector at the moment so trying to use market principles, allowing any old business person to take charge and removing parent governors is a nonsense.

  • Paul Holmes

    “I […] would not as a result expect the Government to hand over to me a chain of failing businesses […] to try and ‘turn them around’”

    I would hope the government wouldn’t be handing out businesses in trouble, their owners should be doing that or they should be going bust.

    “they know nothing about education”

    So to clarify they your assessment is that no one can be involved in running schools unless they have studied education? That will be an issue for many governing bodies across the country. And presumably due to your background being so focused never served on any select committees covering anything outside of education?

    From what I can see Lord Harris hired people to help in the governance of the federation well as having been involved over a period of time. I don’t know if I would put Harris in charge of any educational institutions and I have concerns about the person he has as CEO of the Harris federation (in pay terms alone). But none of that is based upon the fact he made a lot of money starting a carpet business. Many schools across the country have Governors who have no educational training, but no one complains about Vicars, Lawyers, Accountants, Civil Servants but everyone feel the need to describe a business man as a “carpet salesman.”

    There is a strong whiff of snobbery, which seems to completely distract from any kind of legitimate criticism (on the strategy or the operation) of the schools. When I look at particular academies I can see specific things I think they should do differently yet all I hear from people who apparently have bothered to do more research is attacks on the background of an individual at best and very questionable insinuations at worst.

  • Sue

    “removing parent governors is a nonsense”

    I agree. Good to see someone coming up with a specific that people can actually focus on.

  • “Value for Money and Power Education”

    Interesting to see Cameron bested by Corbyn at PMQ’s today on Acadedmies (where were the Lib Dems ?) Interesting to note the National Audit Office pouring cold water on the Academy Scheme – just when Cameron is sending mixed signals of commitment to the policy and then Downing Street ‘sources’ backing off.

    The Guardian tonight : “David Cameron’s plan to expand the academy schools programme brings significant risks for the government’s finances, according to accounts released on Wednesday by official auditors. In a critical assessment, the Department for Education’s annual accounts have been rated as “adverse” by the National Audit Office, which said there was no clear view of academies’ spending. Adverse is the most negative opinion that an auditor can give.

    Cameron is getting into a self inflicted mess with an omni shambles budget, omni shambles Academies and divisions in his party over Europe where a short term dodge of a referendum is explodingd on him. It beggars belief that he got the better of leading Lib Dems in Government. Osborne also got it in the neck from his own Eurosceptic backbenches at Treasury Questions yesterday. The air bristled with what Psi would call a whiff.

  • David Raw

    I think PMQs seems to be more like a stench… As do most commons big events.

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