Note that this blog is written purely from a personal perspective; it does not relate to my academic research or workplace
I grew up in Barrow-in-Furness, a somewhat isolated industrial town on the Cumbrian coast, known (if it is known at all) for its shipyard, a 2002 outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease, and as the home of one of TV’s Hairy Bikers. I remain fond of what is a somewhat unusual but underrated corner of the UK.
So I was intrigued the other week when reading an article at The Guardian to see an advert pop up promoting a vacancy for the role of ‘Business Director’ at Furness Academy, Barrow’s main secondary school which was formed from the merger of 3 comprehensives in 2009. What on earth did a school Barrow need a Business Director for, and why was an advert needed in such a high profile site?
On investigation, the answer is rather gloomy. To quote from the job advert itself:
Furness Academy is sponsored by BAE systems and is currently the single school within the Furness Academies Trust that is owned by BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines.
I think I had vaguely known that the school was sponsored by BAE Systems, the global arms manufacturer which runs Barrow’s shipyard. In a local context, this is quite normal: BAE, and its predecessors VSEL and Vickers, are deeply embedded in Barrow life as the town’s main employer. As a child, I had played at Vickers Sports Club; many members of my family and several of my friends have worked in ‘The Yard’. So we’re used to a certain closeness with BAE in Barrow.
I wasn’t aware that this translated into them actually owning the school, however. Furthermore, it was the plans for the Business Director which appeared to be more insidious. They are being hired:
with a view to playing a strategic role in the development of the Multi-Academy Trust.
Here is the answer to our question as to why they need a ‘Business Diretor’: BAE are interested in controlling more schools. As the major employers in Barrow, with a long history in the town, having an association with the local school is somewhat understandable. But owning it and ‘multiple’ other schools seems much more troubling.
Let’s not forget that BAE Systems has a proven history of corruption in its dealings when selling arms to Saudi Arabia. It employs ‘Education Ambassadors’ to “improve our corporate reputation at both a local and national level“. Their move into owning British schools is part of this programme to soften their image, to increase their political influence, to further trap towns and communities such as Barrow in a dependent relationship with arms manufacturing, all with the potential as well to make a profit.
I’ve written this because I’ve not found anything online about BAE’s apparent desire to expand its control over UK schools. I think many people would be troubled to learn about a global arms manufacturer looking to take ownership of our schools, as part of the ongoing privatization of the British education system.