There comes a moment when even the most churlish of horse beaters realise that not only is the beast of burden lame and suffering from equine colic, but is actually a donkey and is actually dead. After years of following Serco around with a shovel and a bucket, Walsall council has taken up the riding crop and is screaming for a stewards enquiry. The donkey, however, had more brains than the council and contact with the knackers yard and the glue factory would be premature.
It has been heavy going for Serco over the past few weeks. Tasked with saving £7.5million from their £345million contract with Walsall to prove that we are all in this together, the “service provider” quickly set to work in starting the process of dumping schools that were spoiling the reputation and financial returns of Serco. Currently, Blue Coat Comprehensive and Frank F Harrison are joint evens favourites to have Academy status forced upon them and Willenhall, Alumwell and Joseph Leckie are two-to-one for removal from the balance sheet and the race card. The other secondary schools are 100-to-one bar.
It is not all bad news for Serco. With Michael Gove now in charge of the bedlam within the government department, the opportunity to destroy education has been made easier. His insane gallop to privatise learning by handing it over to any maverick with a warped imagination has made it easier to flog off so called “failing” schools; schools failed by Serco. The term “flogging” has to be qualified here as the schools are not actually for sale. The local authority, for example Walsall, spends council tax revenue on removing schools from local authority control and so eases the burden on Serco profitability. The only flogging that takes place is in the offices of headteachers and governors meetings handed out by the well paid senior bullies representing Serco.
Ironically, the schools in the frame for oblivion were improving based on previous minimum standards. This has come about by the hard work of staff and, let us not loose sight of them, pupils. But Gove had a solution to that inconvenience. In a move worthy of Joseph Heller in Catch-22, he simply raised the targets to make sure that they would remain “failing” schools and so stay ripe for privatisation. The imposition of his English Baccalaureate after the last round of GCSE and A-level results demonstrated that nationally, only one in six students made the grade. Schools, therefore, are failing and deserve to be entered into the three-year-old auction at Aintree. In Walsall, that jewel in the crown of the Academies programme, Grace Academy Darlaston, produced a great, big, fat zero in students reaching the baccalaureate standards and was just one point ahead of Blue Coat under the old system.
Add to this the farce of mid-term admissions. Since the coalition government came to power, Serco have accelerated the process of dumping “challenging” children on the very schools they wish to be rid of. These are children with a mix of profound learning difficulties, behavioural problems, disabilities, a disturbing home life and often without any command of the English language. Rather than take responsibility for these disadvantaged pupils, Serco have chosen to abrogate their duty and abandon those in need of support and impose further liability on schools judged by them to be “failing”. Even one child who cannot, or will not, make progress skews the arbitrary targets set for an entire cohort. The maliciousness of Serco is such that schools welcome new pupils without knowing that the child has a statement, is on an at risk register, has a dedicated social worker or is a victim of abuse. This information is known to Serco but is not shared with schools.
Ofsted have again inspected Serco and have found provision in Walsall as being “adequate” which, in Ofsted speak, is just above abysmal and there is precious little evidence of any improvement since the last inspection. Serco, however, are at least consistent. In Bradford, also run by Serco, provision is also judged as “adequate” with again no improvement. Serco profits continue to rise.
Serco, given their form of running some very dodgy dealings, might have thought that operating Immigration Removal Centres was a good bet and a nice little earner. Sadly, Mr Justice Wyn Williams in the High Court disagreed. He found that the detention of children and their mothers at Yarl`s Wood IRC in Bedfordshire, operated by Serco on behalf of the UK Border Agency, was “unlawful” amid evidence of systematic abuses of basic human rights.
After years of being bothered by awkward human rights do-gooders, Serco issued this statement in November 2009:
“We are committed to caring for the detainees at Yarl`s Wood with decency and respect, providing the dedicated facilities which children and families need. These include a nursery and classroom facilities for school-age children, with an outdoor play area with play equipment…We are committed to developing the centre into a recognised centre of excellence for detaining females and families in a safe and secure environment.”
Yarl`s Wood is to be closed, but children are still being unlawfully detained and traumatised in an institution where Serco has the whip hand. The judge said that Serco harmed children.
Back on home turf, top weight jump jockey Mike Bird has had the blinkers taken off and now suddenly realises if Serco “cannot improve themselves, how can they improve education in Walsall?” Well said, councillor Bird. Now with the bit firmly between his teeth, the stallion of Pheasey Park Farm went on to say:
“The standard of education is still far, far short of what we want it to be. The issue needs to be taken into account more strongly. I’ve been told 100 jobs are now at risk. I keep saying this – I can`t believe Serco are doing a good job.”
There are a number of questions raised by this latest neighing from the cabinet stable.
Who exactly should have taken and be taking the issue into account more strongly? Answers on a postcard please addressed to Lester Piggott, c/o Wormwood Scrubs.
Who will be the victims of horse whispered redundancy? Not the short-term contract senior mangers who commute from as far away as Manchester to dictate to Walsall schools. Not the retired headteachers supplementing their pensions by doing the dirty work for Serco. Instead it will be the dedicated and expert Serco staff who provide invaluable support both in the classroom and the staff room.
Walsall’s own one horseman of the apocalypse claims that “I keep saying this”. Since when, Kimosabe? Yesterday, the day before?
Finally: did someone slip Ketamine into the Lone Ranger’s nosebag at the posh reception at Downing Street the other evening?
Faced with irrefutable evidence of failure, Walsall cabinet might want to prove that they are not gelded and tell the Serco mercenaries to pack their saddle-bags and get out of town. Sadly, the Serco magnificent seven employ lawyers quicker on the draw than the peons in the council legal department and the 12 year contract will have to be honoured if Walsall is to avoid a massive pay-out for breach of contract.
The horse is not dead, indeed it is in perfect health. It has bolted with all the money and there is no point in bolting the stable door. Serco never looks a gift horse in the mouth.