Academies – a key battle

More and more cracks are appearing in the Academies policy – we’ve won the argument but we still need to win the battle.

There is still – after 6 years – no convincing evidence to support the claim that Academies get better results. Even the latest government-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers report has to make the devastating admission that ‘There is insufficient evidence to make a definitive judgement about the Academies as a model for school improvement’.

But there is a danger of a creeping acceptance that Academies are here to stay and we can only hope to curtail the worst excesses. That’s why the Brent amendment to the Executive motion is important: ‘the strategic priority…should be to defeat the whole academy and privatisation programmes’.

The victory at Sinfin School in Derby shows the way – joint strike action by the NUT and the NASUWT coupled with mass support from parents on the estate the school serves. Strike action is happening elsewhere too, from Bolton to Newham. But it has to be said – the first Academies opened in 2002, more than 6 years ago. How much easier it would have been to have nipped the programme in the bud then by determined action by the NUT and the trade union movement. If pupil attainment is one Achilles’ heel of Academies, the other is the threat to democracy. No accountability to elected local councillors. No accountability to parents – only one elected parent on the governing body – and no place at all for staff. And the consultation process for setting up Academies is a sham which reveals the corrupt core of our local democracy. Conference is right to call for a ballot in the community – and the rights of trade union recognition and representation.

Just how serious is the threat to a locally publicly accountable school system is revealed by a report in the TES (27 Feb) about the Independent Academies Association, to which over half the Academies belong. Even the government’s light touch attempt to get Academies to cooperate with other schools has provoked complaints of attacks on the ‘freedom’ of Academies. The Association opposes plans to compel all schools to cooperate with Children’s Trusts to implement the Every Child Matters agenda. It also opposes plans to force Academies to cooperate with local behaviour partnerships, which share out problem pupils among local schools. And it wants new powers and extra funding for groups of schools, instead of local authorities, to commission social services to deal with health, youth justice and truancy. In short, their aims are clear – in effect, privately-run non-elected surrogate local authorities. Of course, that’s already under way, with chains of Academies under the same sponsor, usually in different LAs. This poses a new challenge to the Union to link the schools together to present a united front for bargaining and action, including defending victimised Union activists.

Finally, Trust schools are Academies-lite. The Birmingham amendment spotlights the dangers and provides the platform for the Union’s response.

Richard Hatcher

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