Austerity and Academies – the underbelly of privatization

‘Austerity’ has just come too close for comfort. A relative teaches at an academy. He used to, that is. He is currently off long term sick due to stress. Academies reveal the logical, grisly ideological way austerity plays out in practice.

At first my relative resolved to fight back, but has come to the conclusion that he does not wish to continue in the teaching profession as it is now. He will continue to fight, up to and including tribunal and dismissal if necessary simply to make it as difficult as possible for those causing grief – not too strong a word.

Promises were made as to how little would change when the school became part of an academy. My relative was the only staff member to express doubts. Perhaps it is coincidence that he appears to be the number 1 target when those promises turned out to be lies. Like transport and utilities, academies are now ruthless business enterprises, where profit. not public service is the main criterion. They are independent of local authorities, headed by a Chief Executive Officer. A CEO!! Of an educational establishment!

Once upon a time, Ofsted would observe the teacher for a class period – neutrally – once a year, but of course academies are not now supervised by Ofsted. Instead, headmasters of neighbouring academy schools, who presumably should be doing something else, come and ‘observe’ sometimes more than once a week.

These are not impartial inspections. Although apparently the prime target, my relative is not the only member of staff receiving hostile treatment, and suffering deliberate disruption of, for example of pre-class planning. This follows two decades of excellent Ofsted reports.

My relative has of course consulted his union. But a whole raft of negotiated arrangements no longer apply, including some local authority funding (contrary to promises).

I have a neighbour who has experienced exactly the same strategy in a different academy. It appears to have been honed through widespread trial and testing. As the neighbour and partner could (just about) manage on one income, she resigned, rather than break down due to the full force of this treatment. Another neighbour, a GP comments that teachers succumbing to stress are an increasing part of their work.

Although my relative may have been identified as a potential trouble maker, the prime intention appears to be to remove higher paid staff – austerity.

Of course teachers are not the only victims of penny-pinching, or ideological privatization. My own profession (I am long retired), the Probation Service was devastated by Chris Grayling, by arbitrary changes without ‘pilot’ schemes, with the acquiescence of the Liberal Democrats. The medical profession is higher profile, so I do not need to dwell on what is happening to them.

Now for something apparently completely different, but not really. In 1930 John Maynard Keynes predicted that the working week could be cut to 15 hours per week, once the slump of the time had been corrected.  Why has this not materialized? Why had cumulative economic growth not made this come true?

In the link, Larry Elliott goes over the reasons offered as to why, after getting the eight-fold increase in economic growth almost exactly right, Keynes got the second part of his prediction so badly wrong.

All those explanations are plausible, and I do not disagree with any of them, but they do not necessarily conflict with an explanation at a deeper level. Keynes had not spotted that it did not suit the developing agenda which we now call neoliberal.

Are neoliberals greedy and nasty by nature? Some of them probably are, but they are merely following a logic. Paradoxically, this is where growth as a dominant driving force leads. Economic growth does not measure ‘well-being’. It measures ‘facts’, some of which are inimical to well-being, not merely of no relevance. Think hurricane repair work. If an eight-fold increase in the economy has not produced a general rise in well-being, either something has been miscalculated, or someone is deliberately manipulating. It really cannot make sense that retirement age is now rising, not falling.

With a different vision, and hence different governance, both parts of Keynes’ predictions could indeed have come true. A 15 hour week, or better still, a completely flexible pattern of work should by now be the norm. My relative used to enjoy teaching. It only turned sour when the school became an academy.

Regular readers will by now have guessed what could have underpinned this governance: a Universal Basic, Citizens’ Income (UBI). It would of course have been just as valid at any time since Keynes made his prediction in 1930, but the focus was elsewhere. A UBI would mean redistribution – the rich losing a small part of their income, and there was no need for that, was there? Profits were still to be made from economic growth, shared (in theory) by all, and that was not then threatening the ecosphere’s life support systems. But it is now.

Just like Harvey Weinstein’s victims, a UBI would give my relative options not currently open to him. In fact, neither Weinstein nor the CEO of an academy would be able to behave as they do.

But on the other hand, a UBI would ‘Make Work Pay’, where a Universal Credit would do so only marginally, even as originally planned. So work would get done. Like my relative, most people enjoy(ed) their work, and the few ‘lazy’ ones would be worse off. Mind you, the socialist idea of making employers pay all employees a living wage would seriously hamper the potential for job creation, especially if we cannot, on ecological grounds, keep aiming for growth.

I have been asking for a UBI for 44 years, to save the ecosphere and for the benefit of others. If my bluff had been called at any time, I would have paid more in tax than the UBI was worth to me.

It suddenly matters to me personally.




2 responses to “Austerity and Academies – the underbelly of privatization

  1. My partner, teacher now retired early, has suffered all of this.
    So I have witnessed the progression over the past 40 years.
    There is a therory in strategic management regarding ‘coordination of work’, and there are multiple means, from ‘coordination by standardisation of work’ through ‘coordination by standardisation of output’ up to ‘coordination by standardisation of ideology’.
    At the bottom extreme we have a production line, with people doing a repeared minimal task. At the other extreme, we have professions, like lawyers or doctors.
    Teachers started off as professionals, but through the introduction of ‘national curriculum’, then ‘sats’, then prescriptive methods of teaching. With classroom inspection, the ‘coordination’ has been reduced to a production line.
    Why? Because that is the may to crush power from teachers.
    Why? Because in the early 80’s the ‘educational establishment’ was perceived to be dangerously socialist.
    Why? Because young people (including my partner) went into teaching as a way to change the world for the better.
    Teaching has been deprofessionalised in order to bring it to heel.
    The only way to change society for the better is through education, I have witnessed an entire generation of sometimes outstanding people from leaving teacher training up to retirement. The picture is one of wasted talent, opportunity, and lives.

    • Apologies for not replying sooner.
      Thank you for that in depth information. I suspect my relative would not disgree with anything you say, but in talking to him oer the years, my impression is that it only became unlpeasant as the neoliberal ideology began to dominate post 2010, and deliberately intolerable with the final onslaught on this particular academy this term.
      Be that as it may, I have urged the Universal Basic Citizens’ Inocme as necessary and urgent anyway, but now it is personal.

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