Carel Buxton of the Newham Against Academisation Campaign wites about the crisis in our education system caused by the academisation of schooling.
Education System Crisis
The English education system is in crisis. School Governors and Headteachers are having to cope with the biggest funding deficit in living memory, a massive recruitment shortfall, record numbers of teachers leaving the profession, worrying large numbers of young people, tested to within an inch of their lives, who have developed mental health issues. You would think that the Secretary for State for Education, Damian Hinds, would be busy trying to solve some of these issues but you’d be wrong. The Tories are busily pursuing a rampant campaign of privatisation through the academisation of schools and the building of so called ‘free schools’. The term fiddling while Rome burned comes to mind.
You can trace the origins of the academy movement back to Tony Blair’s administration who appointed an academic and former candidate for the SDP, Andrew Adonis, now Baron Adonis of Camden Town, to change the structure of the school system to ‘break the cycle of poor expectations and low standards’ in inner city say schools. Initially called City Academies they were given additional money, freed from the national curriculum and matched with city type sponsors.
In 2000 the Learning and Skills Act came into force and the first steps towards the privatisation and marketisation of schools had begun. Once the Tories came into government and appointed the new Secretary of State for Education, arch right winger Michael Gove, then the whole direction of education took a sharp and speedy turn towards a USA deregulated style system. We are now in a situation where nearly all of our secondary schools and a third of primaries are academies. No nursery schools are academies and this is due to the omission of nurseries from the administration.
This goes to prove that early years education is very much seen by the Department for Education (DfE) as the Cinderella service and to date it has gone in our favour!
Academies Back-Door Privatisation
So academies are state funded, cutting out the local council or local authority,they get their money straight from the DfE. Totally independent from the local authority they are self- governing, not for profit , charitable trusts although in reality there have been numerous, high profile cases and examples of where they have become cash cows for highly paid CEOs and their relatives. Academies do not have to follow the national curriculum although they must provide a curriculum that is ‘ broad and balanced’ ; an increasingly difficult call with the funding crisis hitting all schools. Academies are also subject to Ofsted inspection; that blunt instrument used to beat schools up. If a school fails it’s Ofsted then it becomes a ‘ forced’ academy although recently parents and anti academy campaigners have has some significant success in stopping these ‘forced’ academy orders, most recently in east London at William Torbitt school, Redbridge. Schools can opt to convert to academy status too but initial large financial incentives to do so have all but dried up.
For almost 20 years the academy system has been playing out, gaining a head of steam under Tory Gove and then Nikki Morgan. Despite all the gloss and spin, independent research has shown they have failed in their core mission, to improve schools. Both the Education Policy Institute and the House of Commons Education Committee found academies do not benefit education attainment in primary or secondary schools. Surprisingly enough they do not benefit disadvantaged pupils either; a fact most head teachers would say was a no brainer.
Education Department Promotes Policy over Education
The DfE ignores this reality citing 1.9 million more children in good or outstanding schools than ten years ago. The DfE is known as the department of disinformation and has been chastised by the Office of National Statitistics for its distortion of the facts. It does not stop the government in its pursuit of a parallel reality and it continues to feed the public lies and damned lies. Those on the ground know and increasingly know the true situation for their children and grand children in academy schools.
In an academy your child is more likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher. Your child’s teacher will probably be paid less than in the community school down the road because academies have been freed from the ‘ containts’ of the School Teachers Pay and Conditions agreement. Your child’s teacher is more likely to leave because of the stresses of working in an academy. If your child has special educational needs they are more likely not to be admitted to the academy in the first place and there is growing evidence of unlawful manipulation of admissions policies as well as off rolling of pupils. As a parent you may wish to complain about what’s going on in the school but academies are not open, democratic bodies. Community schools have governing bodies but the academy project has silenced public voices, it has shut down the democratic process.
People’s Campaigns for Education
As a result of these practices, parents have been rightly angered and there have been numerous campaigns against Academisation by these accidental activists. Ordinary working people, mainly women, have organised themselves into grass roots campaigns across the country from the Isle of Wight, to Wakefield, from the east end of London to middle class Lewis in Sussex. The skills of multi tasking, of juggling home, kids and work has been applied to vibrant and often successful campaigns involving hundreds of parents at the school gate with placards and loud hailers. They have launched petitions, lobbied councillors and MPs, organised and spoken at public meetings maybe for the first time. Literally hundreds of grass roots campaigns of this type exist and even when they have not been successful they have radicalised those involved who, perhaps, the first time see the hypocrisy and cronyism of the Tories.
Two recent Panorama programmes has exposed the fat cat pay of the academy CEOs. No longer called headteachers but borrowing titles from business reveals their intention to hoover up as many schools as possible into multi- academy trusts or MATs. A CEO who in the midst of budget cuts had spent £27,000 on refurbishing her office; £4,000 of that was on a desk! £90,000 spent on refurbishing the caretaker’s lodge, not for the caretaker but for her daughter to move into. There are numerous cases like this which illustrate a system rotten to the core. The tide is turning on academies and it’s time for the Labour Party to launch a national campaign with clear , worked out, demands for a National Education Plan.
Shadow Secretary of State, Angela Rayner, made a bold statement at Labour conference in September 2018, calling for the abolition of academies. It fell short of demanding all academies return to local authority control. There is a reservation within Labour and a lack of appetite for this because of the pressure from Progress and the right in the PLP. Rayner says she will listen to experts and that she’s not on structures but is concerned about standards; a Progress mantra.
Opportunities for Change
Structures are having a huge impact on standards in school and all the evidence shows this. Within the Labour Party we are putting pressure on Rayner and others to move on the academy programme, for her to listen to experts like David Wolfe QC, to support the huge social movement around academies and to work with education unions particularly the NEU. Recent changes in the NEU have seen an increase in membership as all school staff such as teaching assistants, can now join. Traditionally teaching assistants have joined Unison or GMB but where their unions fail to support them in action or defend them against repressive academy regimes, they can now join the NEU. We demand a good education for every child in a good local school but we also demand free lifelong educational opportunity for all.
Activists and campaigners on the ground are building a wide social movement and we need full support from the Corbyn leadership. Corbyn is best when he goes to his mass base. Angela Rayner and her team need to boldly connect with the anti academy movement. That way we can begging to transform education for the many, not the few.