New Labour is facing a growing revolt over its education policies, which are wreaking havoc in schools across Britain. Increasing bureaucracy, testing and marketisation mean more stress for teachers and a worse education for children.
The government’s flagship academy programme has failed to “raise standards” and has forced the government onto the back foot.
But there is a serious danger in this – the government has started to push trust schools as a safer political option.
Some people think that there is “bad” privatisation of our schools – academies – and “not so bad” privatisation of our schools – trust schools.
Let’s be clear though that, although they are funded differently, trusts and academies have more in common than they have differences.
They are both about the break up of comprehensive education and the destruction of Local Education Authorities (LEAs).
Of course there are differences between academies and trusts. Academies are directly funded by central government and have a sponsor.
Schools that become academies are closed and reopened with a new headteacher and new staffing structure.
They don’t have to maintain workers’ pay and conditions, although new academies are increasingly guaranteeing them as a way of trying to reduce resistance to proposals.
A trust school is either voluntary aided or a foundation school with a charitable foundation. Like academies, they are also no longer under the control of the LEA.
The trust owns the land and assets, the school governing body employs the staff and the schools set their own admission arrangements.
Instead of having sponsors, trust schools have “partners”.
But one of these partnerships in my area of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, is in crisis just six months after it was formed because one of the schools wants to change its status to become an Academy of Excellence.
It is secondary schools that have so far been targeted as academies. But the most dangerous thing about trust schools is that any school can become one, including primary schools and special needs schools.
The government talks of promoting choice and diversity in education. Yet both academies and trusts weaken local authorities and will increase competition between schools.
But the main reason that we should oppose trust schools is because of the involvement of the private sector.
Businesses that become partners or members of the trust can gain undue influence over the curriculum and running of the schools.
Companies such as Microsoft are very keen to become permanent partners with trust schools.
Anti-trust campaigners in Wakefield exposed the fact that the US multinational Bearing Point was trying to become a partner in one of the proposed trusts in the town.
The company advises on the privatisation of “emerging markets” and was part of the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan.
Bearing Point was quickly dropped from the proposals. Yet months later another group of schools in Wakefield that wanted to become a trust adopted a company called Jacobs Engineering as a trust member.
Jacobs Engineering now owns one third of the nuclear bomb making factory at Aldermaston.
Schools have always worked with outside organisations and there is no problem as such with doing so. The problem with trusts is that there is less democratic control over which organisations schools work with – and these partners are permanent.
The involvement of universities, further education and sixth form colleges as partners allegedly widens the horizons of pupils.
In reality all it does is limit them, because the particular further or higher education establishment involved has a higher profile in the school than others.
Schools’ secretary Ed Balls announced that 638 secondary schools in England would be put into the “National Challenge” programme because they had failed to achieve 30 percent A-C grades among their students last June, further pressuring them to become academies or trusts.
The decision for a school to join a trust lies with its governing body, and in many cases campaigners have been able to persuade them this is not a good idea.
All the main trade unions that represent teachers and support staff in schools all have policy opposing both trust schools and academies.
Our job is to put those policies into practice.
Sally Kincaid is the Wakefield and district divisional secretary of the NUT teachers’ union. Go to » wakefieldcats.googlepages.com for more information on the anti-trust campaign