A week ago, in a howling squall and engulfed in what looked suspiciously like sleet, the youngest hippo entered the gates of secondary academia at precisely 8-03 on a dark Tuesday morning that seemed to belong to February rather than early September.
About 48 hours earlier and about 2,000 miles to the south east, he took a final swim before breakfast in temperatures already approaching 30 degrees C. Setting off for the airport and the flight home, he said he was looking forward to Year 7. Given the dark omen of a dark morning and the embarrassment of a tearful father with a blown inside out umbrella, he seemed remarkably cheerful for a little fish entering the big pond of Key Stage 3. After failing and currently in the process of failing his elder siblings, the UK education system and particularly the authorities in Walsall, have one last chance to provide him with what is his basic right to a decent, thorough and inspiring education.
Sadly, this is unlikely to happen.
The squall of last Tuesday morning was nothing compared to the perfect storm that now conspires to wreck his and so many other futures. With Cameron telling the Daily Telegraph that we need “elitism” in schools, with Dave Willets telling Radio 4 that “voluntary work makes people happy” and Michael Gove suggesting that the children of “bad” parents should be taken from their families and put up for adoption, the pretence of deficit reduction has finally been abandoned in favour of the blatant dogma of privilege. These millionaires may describe these ideas as “radical” and “necessary”, but they are hardly new. A charming chap by the name of Heinrich Himmler had very similar ideas a number of years ago.
Add to this the “changing landscape” of education in Walsall. The utter shambles of previous local authority control replaced by the naked greed of a private company that would render down their own grandmothers for glue if it was profitable, makes the word “betrayal” sound like a compliment. Mercifully, the days of Serco are finally numbered and a lot of the mercenary bullies have taken the golden parachute into secure pension heaven. However, a lot of the good guys at the chalk face have been sacrificed for the sake of the balance sheet and the next two years will see the “changing landscape” become scorched earth. Having been duped into signing away the aspirations of Walsall children on the basis of fictitious and broken promises, it remains unclear how much the giant intellects in cabinet will have to cough up to kick Serco out of town.
Returning control of education to the incompetents that inhabit cabinet is, of course, unthinkable. Serco ruled by intimidation and fear and having failed to make any progress in educational standards have been shown the door in Stoke, Bradford and now Walsall. Free from the irritation and inconvenience of having to produce results, Serco can now return to their comfort zone and concentrate on detaining and mistreating children in Immigration Detention Centres. There is, after all, more profit in abuse.
The local authority, in the shape of the fat owls roosting around the cabinet table, does not possess the ability to oversee a tuck shop let alone education. In normal circumstances, Bunter and his chums in the remove would be terrified of having their obvious failings being exposed by Mr Quelch. Circumstances are, however, far from normal. The last thing secretary of state Quelch, better known as Michael Gove, wants is to have local authorities running schools. It simply will not do to allow locally elected representatives to keep their pudgy little fingers on the cakes, pies and jammy dodgers fund. In the case of Walsall, this is probably a very good thing but for other more capable authorities, it means the end of local accountability.
Gove`s master plan to privatise and therefore devalue state education has proved to be a Godsend for our useless burghers. Firstly, it gives them the excuse to terminate the ridiculous contract with Serco and so bury their gullibility under the smoke screen of the “changing landscape”. Then, they can throw up their jam covered hands and explain to parents that forcing schools into academy status and out of local control is coalition government policy. You must surely remember the coalition government – you know – the politicians that did not win the election and tore up their manifesto promises. Furthermore, the fat owls in the council house need not fear a thrashing from Quelch as he is on their side. Academies operate without the interference of scrutiny, councillors, openness or those pesky parents.
A week into the autumn term and a shift in attitude from Serco has already become evident. The whip cracking threats have been replaced with offers of support to schools with the gently smiling jaws of crooked estate agents or no win no fee ambulance chasing lawyers in an attempt to wring the last penny out of Walsall. Serco will provide nothing unless the school pays for “traded services” that have already been paid for. Senior managers from both Serco and the council are inviting themselves to governors meetings to pitch for business in the style of shysters trying to sell a time-share on the Algarve and to promote the benefits of academy status. The benefit being that if you don’t become an academy, you won’t get any funding and there will be no point in expecting the delivery of a postal order. Oh crikey.
As the desperation to make money intensifies, it won’t be long before headteachers arriving for work will be confronted at the school gates by senior Serco managers armed with buckets and mops who, after giving the windscreen a cursory wipe, will demand money with menaces. After a hard day educating children, the same headteachers will receive phone calls telling them that Serco just happen to be in the area and that their school has been randomly selected to be eligible for discounted double glazing, loft insulation, computer upgrades and maybe a few free books. Just send your bank account details to a post office box in Nigeria and don’t forget to tell your friends.
After a week, the little hippo has become a big hippo. He can take the bus to school unaided, he has met new friends and has even accrued an alarming amount of credits for his work. Given his expertise and his experience of transition between primary and secondary, he would do a better job of running education than the idiots in charge at the moment.
Rather than enjoying the cusp between childhood and adolescence, he has to battle against the vindictive oppression of the likes of Michael Gove and a completely hopeless council. With luck, he and his peers will survive the ruin of education. Without luck, he and his generation are doomed to failure through no fault of their own.
Thank you very much Michael Gove.