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A big “no” to academy status

Teachers from Downhills Primary School, in Haringay, north London are on strike today against plans by the government to force them to become an Academy. They oppose the new status which would place them under the control of a private sponsor and pull them out of the local authority family of schools.

The strike follows a unanimous vote by the NUT teachers to take action against education secretary of state Michael Gove. New legislation gives him the power to transform so-called “failing schools” into academies. In effect they are being privatised.

At Downhills school teachers, parents and pupils are mounting an effective resistance. They are demanding a statement from the local authority that it will retain Downhills as a community school and that it has a robust plan to achieve this. Parents are organising a picnic in the local park this afternoon with children’s author Michael Rosen giving a reading.
Many are questioning the motives behind the Government’s policy of actively encouraging (and forcing) schools in England and Wales to adopt academy status in what amounts to an attack on the existing state school system. There is no evidence that pupils’ achievements or results improve in academies. In fact there are plenty of case of failing academies.

Academy status means that a school is taken out of the control of local education authorities and funded directly by central government. This means that the culture of co-operation between schools is replaced by one of competition. Academies have to be sponsored, usually by an organisation or business (such as the Harris Federation or Ark Schools). The aim is to take over former comprehensive and community schools. They can then run them as a business, albeit with charity status. Faith organisations can also sponsor schools.

Crucially, they get extra money, and a lot of it. In effect, headteachers and parents are being bribed to transform their schools into academies. Former headteacher Peter Downes – also a Cambridgeshire county councillor and vice-president of the Liberal-Democrat Education Association – has calculated that the government is spending around £1bn on special grants to academies in existence and to schools likely to convert in the next year. This, Downes states, is nearly £600m more than the actual extra costs of converting to academy status. “It is impossible to justify spending this amount of money on a minority of schools, predominantly the most favoured”, he writes in the Anti-Academies Alliance journal.

Gove’s claim that academies benefit from “greater freedoms to innovate and raise standards” is a cover for a damaging transformation of education for the benefit of various business and political networks which includes a schools market, as in the health service.
The advantage of these new type of privately-sponsored schools is that they have the right to vary national pay and conditions negotiated by the unions. Teachers and support staff will have to make contracts with an academy trust. The unions will be weakened, while staff are liable to have to work a longer day with fewer holidays. Only last week Gove floated the idea of each school in the country fixing the pay and conditions of its staff.

The damaging effects of marketisation are revealed in the sale of poor food at academy schools. Some 90 per cent of the 1,800 academy schools are currently selling unhealthy foods that are banned in state schools. Each school is making between £3,000 and £15,000 profit in this way.

There is little to divide Labour from the Coalition on education, as on everything else. Efforts by both New Labour and the Condems to improve pre-school facilities have failed to achieve results. The class divide in education in Britain remains one of the worst in the developed world. It truly is time to free education from the profit motive.

Peter Arkell
A World to Win
22 May 2012

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