It was standing room only at the Anti Academies Alliance public meeting in central London on Thursday night.
Over 250 parents, teachers, head teachers, governors and others packed into a meeting to discuss the fight against Michael Gove’s plans to let academies rip.
Gove wants to destroy state education. He wants competing private businesses to run schools for profit—and for them to be accountable to no one.
General secretaries and executive members of trade unions, education campaigners and a head teacher spoke at the meeting.
They attacked the government’s “ideological offensive” on comprehensive education and challenged its lies over the state of schools.
“The arguments we are up against are completely untrue,” said Fiona Millar, an anti-academies campaigner and parent. “Most schools are not failing and most parents are happy with their child’s school.
“Don’t believe Michael Gove when he says that academies will have fair admissions policies. It will be impossible to enforce them—and academies will find ways of admitting those who are easier to teach.”
Many people voiced similar concerns about the negative impact of academies on children with special educational needs. Existing academies exclude more pupils than other schools—usually those who would “bring down” league table scores.
They fail the poorest and most vulnerable children.
Simone Aspis is the campaigns and policy co-ordinator for the Alliance for Inclusive Education. The Alliance campaigns for an end to segregated education for disabled children.
“Academies are the government’s first attempt to undermine mainstream state education,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They will not be subject to special educational needs legislation and could choose to cater for one disability but not others.
“We need to ensure that all schools have to follow the education legislation and defend state education.”
Paramjit Bhutta, a head teacher in Tower Hamlets, east London, told the meeting about the difference between working in a state-run school and an academy.
“In the academy I worked in, there wasn’t accountability,” he said. “Now I’m held to account and that’s how it should be because students’ futures depend on it.
“In my borough 78 percent of schools are good or better. They didn’t become so by being independent.
“If the outstanding and good schools become academies then what’s left? The left over schools will become the untouchables. No one will want to send their children there.
“Partnership between schools is stronger than academies operating alone.”
Jerry Bartlett, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, asked, “If schools are outstanding, why are we gambling our kids’ futures on a system that is very uncertain and that has no record of raising standards?”
And Christina McAnea from the Unison union stressed how Gove’s proposals affected not only workers in schools but parents too. Many stressed the urgency of building a broad campaign against academies.
“There is a very large coalition opposed to this government,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT union. Losing doesn’t bear thinking about.”
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL union, agreed. “We can rise to the challenge and make the government’s life very difficult,” she said.
John Berry, from the UCU lecturers’ union, said the government’s proposals reflected a narrow view of education as “utilitarian, target-driven and done on the cheap”.
Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, stressed the widespread unease with academies and the potential to build mass campaigns in local areas.
“We need action in every school and national action against the bill,” he said. “This is the most undemocratic piece of education legislation we have ever had. This is a fight for the future of our children.”
People talked of what they had already done against academies in their areas. “Our NUT union met and passed a motion against academies to give to the governors,” Annette Lynch, an NUT health and safety rep in Hackney, told Socialist Worker.
“We went around all the staff and filled four pages of a petition.
“Some people feel pressured and worried that if they don’t become an academy the school will be isolated. But no one is for academies.”
John Edwards, chair of governors at a school in Tower Hamlets, said his head is opposed to academies and that the governors have asked for a full consultation.
“Everyone was against academies at our governing board meeting,” he told Socialist Worker.
“I came to volunteer my services to help my local community, not to make profit. I can’t see how education can be profit-driven.
“This is the privatisation of education.”
One primary head teacher said that governors at her school had voted unanimously against academies. “Academies would mark the end of democracy,” she told Socialist Worker.
“They would be run by organisations that made their money through arms deals or by hedge fund managers. They’ve failed us already—we don’t want them running our schools.”
The Anti Academies Alliance is holding similar meetings and events around Britain. For more information and campaigning materials go to » www.antiacademies.org.uk