Hello! Here in Smolensk butcher shop we celebrate week when first Free Schools open in UK. Big triumph for excellent Education Secretary Michael Gove. He may look bit like experiment Professor Miliutin conduct at my old school, Smolensk Academy, when he illustrate boom and bust economic principle by inflate guppy with bicycle pump. But Gove do brilliant coup.
Free School idea got such great vibration. Free. Free! What is better than a free school? Free at point of delivery. Free to do what it please. It make all pupils free. And Free School based on Swedish Schools system. Sweden! Birthplace of Nordic social democracy, Ikea, Bjorn Borg, ABBA, Sven Svenson’s Eat Who You Want Smorgasbordello, and Kenneth Brannagh.
Defenders of Swedish Free Schools point to philanthropic motivation. Free Schools are establish by parents, often with charities, faith groups, even trade unions, and compete for pupil. Those who get most pupil get most fund from state.
So, if aim of charity is help poor, most, in fact all, Free Schools must be establish in poorer areas and serve poor children. Right?
Well, British Government import system. And keep charitable principle. But UK style. For Coalition understand real nature of charity. They learn well Bible sentiment: “to those who have, more shall be given”. So in aftermath of banking crisis and global financial meltdown, UK wisely protect engine of capitalism, by bail out bankers, protect their bonuses and place burden of deficit reduction on benefits claimants, Sure Start Centres, social services and all other guilty ineffectual bystanders of current crisis. (Hey, Meals on Wheels Driver, hey, Lollypop Lady, you say you not cause financial disaster. You say you didn’t help bankers devise Collaterlised Debt Obligations. But what exactly did you do to stop them? Huh?) This ensure protection of only credible economic model world have: continuous risk-free self-enrichment by elite, where crumbs fall off their table into lap of grateful population in good times, and where population show gratitude in bad times by drop all their pennies into beleaguered plutocrats’ outstretched, desperate, perfumed, manicured hand.
But elite still feel pinch. Cost of living rise. School fees go up. How they pay for second home in Tuscany, coke-snorting sessions with trafficked Tajikistan sex workers, and place at Eton for little Marcus – all at same time? Poor little Marcus! How his parents afford foster in him unique UK inverse proportion, governing principle of ruling classes: that smallness of talent is match by gigantism of entitlement? So, since we all in this together, Gove use Free School system as additional bail out.
Gove follow Big Society principle. Big Society aim replace state provision with voluntarism – heart transplants performed by champion players of “Operation”, rioters dispersed by Amazons of Women’s Institute, armed with tea, cold politeness and brooms, and Boy Scout and Girl Guide “Bob a Job” week replacing planned maintenance programmes in social housing. But research show idea work best where middle class volunteering is concentrate. In middle class areas.
Historically, deprivation zones is get inputs of social services and efforts of big charities contracted by state. This is futile and pointless business. It try spread opportunity and enrichment where there no evidence people want it. (When did you last see letter to “The Times” signed by 100 poor people asking for better library in their area, or hear email about social services signed Daz in Bootle read out on “Any Answers”?) Better to stop it. But in good old Anglican tradition, rich who live in affluent areas can afford to look after less fortunate immediate neighbours. These poor people be quite well turned out, all things considered, Oliver Twist-like, fetlock-tugging, thankee kindly my benevolent master, sir. And crucially they small in number. Manageable. However, they different enough from middle-class volunteers, so latter feel their half hour at youth club on Wednesday will save soul from bottomless perdition promised to hard-hearted and stretch eye of their needles to size of fifty camel. And it much safer to volunteer to help residents of Tunbridge Wells’ 23 council houses, than risk life, limb, or, worse, being seen, in Brixton.
And it same with Free Schools. Faith-based Free Schools - paid for by taxpayers of all faiths and no faith - is privately run to serve specific religious communities. Over half of Free Schools establish in arenas where Big Society flourish: affluent suburbs. So. Those same Big Society volunteers, under leader Toby Young, is set up Free Schools so they feel better about themselves and so they benefit themselves.
Ah Toby Young! You British so wise. In glorious modern Albion, where Simon Cowell is guru, Niall Fergusson historian, and Matt Di Angelo actor, where media court view of Jamie Redknapp on rioting, what success must fall to Toby Young, this Strauss-Kahn-defending, Starkey-abetting, ever ready quote-machine, hybrid of Capote’s pate and Clarkson’s brain, but branded and packaged with credibility-conferring labels of Oxbridge and Fulbright, so – ah Britain, again, where image is everything you need – so your people must heed whatever he say, and stifle thought that occur, as his sexy Og-Monster face lecture on “This Week”, that what he say is same you hear from taxi driver, but more easy, eloquent, relaxed, confident, full of classical allusion, oiled in self-satisfaction, dripping in oils of smugness, oozing, oily ooze, saturated, marinated, basting itself again and again in the mellow juice of its own semi-ironized offensiveness (not obnoxiousness of being countercultural and thought-provokingly offensive; no, well oiled, prejudice-reaching, lowest common-denominator-pandering ease of one who knows that inside every Englishman lies that quietly acknowledged portion that is forever GIT, one who shows you can make a virtue, a philosophy, a Weltanschauung, a – well let us say it – a career of gittishness), so instead of cry out, you watch, in envious, uncritical, unreactive, self-censoring silence, as the self-mocker mock you, mock all, drenching himself in oil, rubbing the oil of self regard on the loin of his ego, elevating a glistening monument that teases you – I could do that, you think, why can’t I make my immediate needs, what I want for my children, into universal principles, leavening my prejudice with a witty “knowing” style that says yes I’m a selfish git, but at least I’m a self-aware selfish git (which of course just makes me a selfish git), why can’t I oil myself off in the public’s face, but no I can’t, and why can’t I, because I didn’t go to Oxfam College Cambridge, and I’m not a Fulshite Scholar, and so, no, I don’t know Dave and Boris and George and Nick and no I can’t erect myself into a monument on which the British will carve the highest honour known to man, that reflects our greatest achievement, of turning narrow perspectives into universal truths, in the Gonzo, me, Me, ME, MEEEEE Age, and calls it by that sacred name, the name to which we all aspire: TOBY YOUNG, COMMENTATOR.
Sorry I digress. (Student Arkady - local egghead - get carry away when help me with language in last bit. Then he need shower.) So schools these middle class activists set up paid for by state. Free. Free! To those who can afford to live near them.
For that is where Free Schools must be concentrate. Where Big Society can work. Where poor and charity both token. Affluent areas. For system must continue provide handout to those who bear brunt of financial crisis: economic elites. They get publicly funded private school system. And they pay only once for it. In deposit they put down on their £1m house. Huge improvement on evil of current system, where they must pay school fees too.
What? cry some supporters of Free School system. What about example of Sweden, of spreading opportunity, of setting up schools in deprived areas? Well, it seem Gove and Young understand system better than these silly liberal. For research show that despite Swedish traditions of charitable activism, Free Schools there make plenty little difference to poor kids and their education standards. Major Swedish beneficiaries is private companies, who actually run schools, set up by parents and their associates, for profit, under voucherised system. Gove understand this and want profit-making schools in UK. Of course Nick Clegg block him now. But he soon compromise. (Like he did on Health Bill. He satisfied health regulator lose duty to promote competition and instead have very different duty to promote choice.) So they will agree wording. Say, Free Schools not allowed to make “excessive” profits. Which fine. Especially if definition of excessive left to another state subsidised private enterprise, banks.
Indeed eventually we may see Coalition’s public service ideal, as banks run schools in wealthy areas, get profit, and train their future workforce. State subsidy for these schools in wealthy areas will develop alumni who won’t merely be measured on grades – or even on silly outdated things like capacity for rational critical enquiry – but, as Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington, suggest recently in “The Guardian”, on character. Character of Eton pupil. Character to use and perpetuate networks of influence, hide personal limitations (like chronic unoriginality of thought) and sustain status quo.
But what about mainstream school, especially in poor areas? Won’t pupils there fail? Well of course they should, since their dole-scrounger-stigmatised, cash-strapped, benefit-slashed, undereducated parents too feckless to borrow necessary capital from friends in City and set up own Free Schools.
But fortunately, rescue at hand. Once government able allow for-profit operators into system, all school be run private.
Economic experiment of rapid deficit reduction, triple dip recession and zero growth strategy will drive UK back to Victorian conditions. This easiest means to entrench creative discrepancies between rich and poor – for massive inequality is dynamo of capitalism. So capitalists will need workforce of ragged, illiterate urchins to do work. Hence, private operators will run large “vocational” schools in inner cities. These be fund on principle of “social bonds”: investors underwrite lumpenproletariat against future profitability. So these schools will be places where children do practical tasks, in exchange for shelter and subsistence (they homeless, of course, due to rising housing costs and benefits cap). They work for free, gaining valuable apprenticeships, on projects like rebuild decayed national infrastructure, High Speed Rail link, and next generation nuclear power stations. Investors will then own these assets and recoup investment in youth in form state-subsidised operating contracts. And pupils graduate with all the menial and drudgery skills they need for blue collar jobs in these operations, or work in call centre, or present “Daybreak”. Schools be like good old-fashioned workhouses, but rebrand by IDS and Philippa Stroud, as “Welfare to Workhouses”. And some smart investors will even underwrite high risk/high yield enterprises which most ingenious, criminally inventive and recession-proof young social outcasts wish to pursue, like organised crime, drug dealing or appearing on X-Factor.
But that is all for future. For what Free School initiative show now is virtue of old motto. Charity begins at home. At home in West London.