This week I’ve been visiting, with a colleague, National Union of Teachers (NUT) members in primary, special and secondary schools in Cornwall.
The purpose of our visits was to find out about issues in their schools and to offer support and training for organisation, and in many cases resistance, to the increasing demands being placed on teachers by increasingly bullying managements.
Most of the schools we visited have converted to independent academy status. This means that they are no longer community schools under Local Authority (LA) control. Instead central government has direct control in the shape of the Minister for Education, Michael Gove. Boards of Governors now have the power to hire and fire without any reference to the LA. They also have responsibility for the buildings and the grounds of these schools along with other matters such as Health and Safety and Terms and Conditions of work, which were the responsibility of the LA. Should the school ‘fail’ in any way the Secretary of State now has the power to close it down or have it taken over by an ‘outstanding’ academy.
The Academies programme began under the previous Labour Government, following their drive to privatise schools via the Trust Schools programme. Devon NUT led a highly publicised campaign, both locally and nationally, against them.
The claim for trust schools and academies by the Blair led Government was that standards, especially for children from deprived backgrounds, would be driven up. These first academies were taken over (effectively handed over) to the likes of Lord Harris, of Harris Carpets, Peter Vardy, a second hand car dealer and Creationist zealot, and Steve Chalk another Christian zealot. Large amounts of money from the government were set-aside as ‘sweeteners’ to encourage schools to change to academy status.
There have been many campaigns nationally to resist these changes. The Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) www.antiacademies.org.uk has regular updates and reports on news and events. There is also much helpful information regarding the arguments against the privatisation of our community schools.
Sadly, a number of academies have been put into ‘special measures’ following the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) visits. The latest is the Sir Robert Woodward Academy in Lancing West Sussex. We do not celebrate at this news, or the fact that in an analysis of the most recent exam results tables by the Anti Academies Alliance over 20% of academy GCSE results either show no improvement or have declined. It is the students who are being let down for purely ideological reasons.
The consequences have been far reaching. The Tory led coalition has driven the Academies programme via the Education Act, giving powers to the Education Secretary, which for instance, can force a school to become an academy if it is not meeting the so called ‘floor targets’ set by Ofsted.
Furthermore, there is no requirement to consult all interested parties such as parents, community groups and prospective parents, for example, to agree whether or not a school should change its status. No public meeting, no arguments for and against, no ballot. In other words small groups of people on governing bodies with vested interests in moving towards privatisation have been making decisions to take this route without any recourse to democratic processes.
A further difficulty for schools is that the assessment of their ability to deliver the curriculum, as per Government demands, is constantly changing. For example, it was reported this week that the new Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says that a school that has been deemed ‘satisfactory’ in the past will now be in the ‘failing’ category.
Here’s the good news though. There are a number of schools throughout the country that have organised opposition to academy status. Downhills Primary School in Tottenham is a wonderful example of the whole school community uniting in their resistance. I recommend having a look at the video of their song Save Our School on youtube. It is so inspiring*.
There is also the spectre of so-called ‘Free Schools’, based on the Swedish move to a complete privatisation of schools. Route 39 is being touted in North Devon by a group of parents. The regulations that usually apply to where children can be taught safely by fully qualified staff are being openly flouted by the odious Mr Gove in his quest to destroy the idea of comprehensive education in a good local community school for all children. Just this week it has been reported that a Swedish Free School has been put up for auction on Ebay. It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
This is a full frontal ideological attack by the Tories, ably supported by their liberal friends, to smash comprehensive education. It is deeply divisive and has already led to further segregation by background and belief.
The fight back continues,however. Several campaigns are running. Some have already been successful. The Anti Academies Alliance has useful information on its website. The National Union of Teachers website has further information by clicking on its campaigns button and then the priority campaigns button.
Last but not least, we in the North Devon Anti Cuts Alliance are contributing to the debate and the fight to retain comprehensive education and to keep it from the profiteering hands of private businesses, religious groups and others.
North Devon Anti Cuts Alliance welcomes anyone who wants to resist the excesses of this government, as it tries to make those who can least afford it pay for the crisis created by their friends in the banks and hedge funds. They see education and students, for example, as nothing more than another business to be exploited for their prestige and profits.
*Unfortunately this video is not accessible at the moment, I will post it on this site if I see it become available again.