Few parents would complain about their teenage children opting to spend a large chunk of their school holidays at a university summer school. After all, it’s here that they get a chance to sample academic life, studying a wide range of subjects taught by specialists in a new and exciting environment, and surrounded by other young people with a similar enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge. It beats happy slapping, at least.
But when the sponsors of such summer schools include one of the Israeli army’s favourite suppliers, the warm glow of approval can begin to shift to unease. Caterpillar, well known for supplying the Israeli military with bulldozers to flatten Palestinian homes and build the illegal apartheid wall, is part of the gang of corporate sponsors with their fingers in the education pie. In this case, it’s the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (NAGTY), a club of over 100,000 students aged 11-19 who are considered by their teachers to be of high ability.
Being labelled a ‘G&T’ student (which, incidentally, doesn’t require outstanding genius – just a decision by a teacher that a student is in the ‘top 5 per cent of ability range’, whatever that is) allows students to team up with others at neighbouring schools and universities and take part in workshops on filmmaking, quantum mechanics, archaeology – or ethics.
In fact, ethical debates are one of the most popular activities, with the list of topics on the students’ discussion forum including smoking in public, nuclear power and US presidential elections. So far, there are no threads entitled ‘Should international law be ignored?’ or ‘Encouraging the most aggressive army in the world – good or bad?’ but one can only hope that this is because the bright young things are unaware of where their funding comes from.
Tim Morris, a parent of two children who are members of NAGTY, was alarmed to discover that the programme’s sponsors include Caterpillar. ‘I have been very impressed by the fact that NAGTY not only caters to the curiosity of young people but also encourages reflection on ethical and moral issues,’ he says. ‘So I am very disappointed to see that NAGTY seems to wish to sweep this issue under the carpet.’
The best response NAGTY has been able to come up with so far certainly wouldn’t score any points in a debating contest. ‘All our work is done in consultation with the UK government, who would advise us if they felt that any of our relationships were inappropriate,’ says spokesperson Alison Rowan. ‘As far as I am aware, they approve of Caterpillar’s support for NAGTY.’
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter where the money comes from, does it? It’s not as if they have any influence, do they? Well, none apart from the fact that Richard Elsden, director of government affairs for Caterpillar UK, sits on NAGTY’s board (known in NAGTY literature as the ‘Friendship Group’). And no, Caterpillar is not the only corporate sponsor of the programme: Goldman Sachs and National Grid Transco do it too. While the bulk of the funding comes directly from the DfES, the slice that comes from the business world is set to expand. ‘We are delighted and grateful that the Caterpillar Foundation is increasing its support significantly in 2005-2006,’ says NAGTY’s annual report.
Bulldozers and human rights abuses aside, what this highlights is the nature of the relationship between the corporate world and education. Whether it’s through city academies or the sponsorship of academic elites, the business world is claiming an ever greater stake in the shaping of young hearts and minds, and you don’t have to be ‘gifted and talented’ to work out why. And it’s interesting that corporations like Caterpillar are much less keen to fund initiatives for students who aren’t at the top of the ability range.
There are countless examples of businesses pouring cash into education. There’s Business Action on Education, for example, a consortium aiming to ‘raise levels of achievement of young people’ by focusing on three main areas – ‘employability, enterprise and leadership’. (Caterpillar’s Richard Elsden is on the board of this one, too.) Or there’s the Goldman Sachs Gifted Entrepreneurs programme, part of NAGTY. And that’s to name just two.
But who will provide the political balance? Cashstrapped NGOs and pressure groups? How can organisations on the left buy a similar stake in young people’s awareness if education is to be sold in this way? The so-called ‘leaders of tomorrow’ cultivated by programmes like NAGTY will all be business leaders rather than any other kind. Unless, of course, the teachers in next year’s summer school fancy putting Caterpillar’s activities on the ethics syllabus.
As man-made global warming gets closer to the tipping point, Andrew Simms finds reasons to be positive about averting catastrophic climate change
In this extract from his new book The Candidate, Alex Nunns tells the inside story of how Jeremy Corbyn scraped onto the Labour leadership ballot in 2015
Graham Jones proposes a framework for a diverse movement to flourish
Musician Eliane Correa reflects on the fading revolution
Trump's victory is another sign of the failure of the centre-left's narrative on climate change. A new message is needed, and new politicians to deliver it, writes Alex Randall
Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant
Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’
Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue
Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn
From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'
The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion
The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry
Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram