"Special measures" - a route to privatisation?

As with schools, now with hospitals - but where will league tables and 'special measures' lead the NHS?

19 July 2013

Confession time. I’m a teacher. And I hope I‘m not trying to teach my colleagues in the NHS how to suck eggs. But with the publication of the Keogh report this week, two words rang big alarm bells for me:  “special measures”.

11 Hospital Trusts were put in special measures this week, the first time the term has been used for hospitals.But "Special measures” has been used in education for some time now - and is increasingly a way of forcing schools into privatisation. 

How does it work?

Step one: A school is inspected, often by a private company like Serco, and told it is failing. It is branded as the lowest rating ‘unsatisfactory’ and put into a dreaded category - special measures.

Step two:  The governing body is sacked, and an Interim Executive Board (IEB) is put in its place. Often people on the Board have connections with an organisation hoping to take over the school. At Downhills Primary in Tottenham, north London, one of the members of that IEB was Sir Daniel Moynihan, CEO of the Harris Academy chain. It was this organisation  that ultimately took Downhills out of local authority control.

Step three: The school is constantly re-inspected and a climate of fear prevails.  New working practices are introduced which attack working conditions, making the job harder than ever before.  Working days become longer, lunch breaks shorter and paperwork excessive. On-the-spot inspections are introduced with teachers often required to prove every child in their class made progress during a 20 minute observation  - and failed if they cannot.

Often it’s the most experienced (and therefore expensive) teachers who are failed - or the most outspoken, including union activists. Gradually opponents of the new regime are worn down and leave. The service users, in this case the students, are hit hard by this. They often feel they have failed in some way and sense that the staff teaching them are demoralised and stressed.

Step four: The announcement is made that, despite all the hard work of the staff, the school has not made sufficient progress to be taken out of special measures. The IEB make the decision for the school to be closed and reopened as an academy.  It is then handed over to a private company or unaccountable Trust, often the same one represented on the IEB.

Once out of public hands, do things improve? Not really.

The latest research by the Anti-Academies Alliance shows that academy conversion actually damages educational standards with 38% of schools actually deemed to be worse by Ofsted after being privatised.

Many academies ‘game’ the league-tables by offering GCSE-equivalent qualifications that, while they boost their results, are of lower value to the students when they leave. Academies also exclude far higher numbers of students and overt and covert selection of students appears to be increasing.

So what can be done to fight against it?

Well, like I say, I’m a teacher and don’t presume to tell my colleagues in the NHS how to act. But, if it was me, I’d do the following:

  • 1)      See if it’s possible to legally challenge the verdict of ‘special measures’. This might be done through one of the health care workers unions.
  • 2)      Unite service users and staff in a campaign to highglight the unfair verdict.
  • 3)      Reject the argument that new working conditions are the only way to improve the service and get out of special measures. They simply break down staff morale and create a cowed, compliant and less experienced workforce.
  • 4)      Consider direct action against any private company that you feel may be hovering, hoping to privatise your hospital/health care services.  These people HATE bad publicity. Picket their offices, write to the press, use social media to share negative press stories about their practices.
  • 5)Service users and staff need to stay united as a group.  They seek to divide and conquer – don’t let them!







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