The meeting on Wednesday evening (6 April 2016) attracted an audience of almost 100 people to discuss how to oppose the forced academisation of schools in Brighton and Hove and across the country. There were teachers and school support workers, heads, governors, parents, teacher trainers, and students. As the chair Simeon Elliott said, the degree of expertise in education present in the room was formidable. There was great determination to launch a campaign and a strong sense that this is a campaign that we can win. Click on the photo to see the Meridian TV report of the meeting.
Forced academisation wasn’t in the Tories’ manifesto. It’s obvious why not – it was bound to be an unpopular policy and they knew that many of their own candidates and supporters would be against it. The meeting was strongly against forced academisation. The idea, promoted by the Labour leadership of Brighton and Hove City Council, that the council might establish a local academy trust was roundly rejected. We are against academisation in principle. Establishing a trust would be to do the Government’s dirty work for it and can only neutralise opposition. We should fight back while the Tories are split. The council in Birmingham has voted to reject forced academisation; B+H CC should do the same.
We know that there are problems in education. There is a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention. Funding cuts are harming children’s education. Many areas are short of school places. Primary testing is proving unworkable. These are problems largely created by this Government and they will not be solved by the proposals in the White Paper.
There are only three academies in Brighton and Hove. Two of these were forced to become academies; the third converted because it believed that it would otherwise be forced to do so. No governing bodies, no ballots of parents have voted for academy status. Schools in B+H want to collaborate, not to compete. Cllr Bewick’s Twitter poll found 93% of respondents against. The campaigns to oppose academisation of Varndean and Hove Park have shown how to fight and win.
Academisation doesn’t make schools better. Research by the Local Schools Network shows that schools forced to become academies improve more slowly than those which remain as local authority schools. After 14 years of academisation, the Government is unable to produce clear evidence that academies get better results than local community schools.
The Government claims that academies liberate schools from local authority bureaucracy. But all schools have managed their own budgets since 1990. Academies are in chains run by unelected, self-perpetuating trusts directly responsible to central government and to unelected schools commissioners. The Government is proposing to abolish the requirement for parent governors and no governors from local authorities. They are less part of their local communities than are local authority schools.
Academy trusts are private, self-appointed and self-perpetuating. There is no control over how much they pay their executives. We can already see the effects of handing over large parts of the education service to such private institutions. In the pre-school sector we can see how delivering education through private, voluntary and independent providers effects quality. Some pre-school chains employ pre-school staff on very low salaries, and with very little training, which results in a high level of staff turnover, which impacts upon the quality of pre-school children’s provision. There is a noticeable difference in the quality of those pre-school provisions maintatianed by local authorities and some of those run by private, voluntary and independent providers. Similarly, Further Education colleges employ fewer qualified staff, and part-time and temporary contracts are the norm. The student experience has deteriorated greatly. The University of Brighton, once committed to a presence in Hastings, has walked away from this on the grounds that it is too expensive.
We do not accept that local authorities are faceless bureaucracies. In the past, they have provided vital services for SEN students. They have provided school improvement services. They manage the schools’ admissions service in an attempt to provide fairness. They run music centres and the like. A system of competing academies will inevitably lead to the disappearance of many of these shared services, and a gaming of the admissions system to exclude students with the greatest needs. Music, art, theatre, sports and outdoor activities will become luxuries, only available to those who can pay. We would like to see the role of local authorities boosted for the benefit of all students rather than whittled away as at present.
Parents know the value of trained, committed teachers, sensitive to the local situation. Academies can employ unqualified teachers who are generally less competent. In future, head teachers rather than teacher training institutions will have the power to decide who gets qualified teacher status. Rather than giving teachers greater freedom, teachers will be required to follow curricula and use methods decided centrally. National pay scales (which most academies currently follow) will disappear so that academy trusts can set their own scales in an attempt to break the unions, reduce costs and allow trusts to generate a profit.
The forced academisation programme would cost £1.3billion. Most primary schools don’t have to resources to carry out such a scheme. West Sussex would have to convert 70 schools a year over the next four years. The waste of time, money and energy would be phenomenal.
We need a more joined-up education system, a National Education Service to parallel the NHS. We don’t want competition between institutions, we want collaboration. The loss of local control over the FE sector has undermined Technical and Vocational Education.
We should avoid the Government- and OFSTED-inspired language of ‘failing schools’. Where schools have difficulties it is often because of social deprivation – unemployment and casualised employment, poor housing, inequalities. These issues need tackling together – Sure Start Centres were established as part of such a policy. Schools cannot be expected to bear the brunt of social problems and should not face the finger of blame.
We should recognise that this Government wants to dismantle the Welfare State. They want a privatised school system that private companies can profit from.
We need to campaign against this. We need clear statements that parents, governors, teachers, students and all local people can understand. We need to involve all of these groups, including students. We would like Brighton and Hove’s councillors to consult the public, including parents and young people, teachers and public service trades unions, to determine a collaboratively agreed strategy for resisting the Tories’ forced academisation plans, rather than propose a response independently.