Over 250 teachers, parents, educationalists and campaigners met in London last Saturday for a one day conference against New Labour’s plans to rip up the comprehensive school system by extending city academies and trust schools across the state sector.
The conference was organised by the Anti-Academies Alliance under the slogan “A Good Local School For Every Child”. Keynote speakers included Tony Benn and Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the NUT teachers’ union.
While its focus was on stopping city academies, much of the event involved understanding academies in the context of how neoliberal “reforms” are transforming state education by introducing “free market values” and privatisation.
Phil Cross, head teacher at Hurlingham & Chelsea school in west London, described how local councillors had decided to close the school down and replace it with an academy—despite the school improving in results year on year.
He is now leading a campaign to save the school from closure. “The staff don’t want to run away, nor do the children, nor do the parents,” he said. “We are standing up and saying something is wrong—but nobody is listening.”
Richard Hatcher, a campaigner and educationalist at the University of Central England, Birmingham, gave a detailed presentation explaining how the government’s education agenda encourages councils to shut perfectly decent schools and replace them with academies.
Academies are closely linked to government plans to replace GCSEs with business oriented “vocational” training for working class teenagers, he explained, which in turn are tied to government funding for building new schools.
“You won’t get the money unless you produce a plan for vocational provision which meets the government’s agenda—and academies have to be part of the plan” he said. “Not surprisingly, local authorities are falling over themselves to comply.”
Manchester, Birmingham and Nottingham have already drawn up plans for “industry clusters” of vocational schools centred around next-generation city academies sponsored by corporate giants such as Microsoft and O2.
Terry Wrigley of Edinburgh university spelled out exactly what these “vocational” schools entailed. Clause 61 of the new education bill explicitly states that those on the vocational path will have no entitlement to history, geography, art, music, drama, or a foreign language.
Other speakers at the conference included Ken Muller of Islington Green school, which is threatened with closure after governors and staff refused to back plans to turn it into an academy.
Protest to save Islington Green school, Thursday 18 January, 5.30pm, Islington town hall, Upper Street, London N1