Socialist Worker

NUT conference: Fighting academies and free schools

Issue No. 2249

Delegates at NUT conference voted unanimously to fight plans to turn schools into academies and free schools. The debate showed the understanding among teachers that these schools are about turning schools into businesses – and the widespread determination to resist.

The motion agreed to 'encourage and support union members to take strike action, where possible with other unions, against proposals to convert to academy status'.

Two amendments, also passed unanimously, condemned academies for posing a threat to gains such as maternity leave and highlighted the limits of the current Tupe legislation on protecting workers whose schools are privatised.

They also agreed to try and coordinate strikes against academies and for the executive to 'consider a ballot for strike action in defence of national pay and conditions as part of this campaign'.

Gerry Robinson from Camden described academies as 'fundamentally ideologically-driven' and warned that their proliferation would break up state education.

Ivan Hickman from Stoke-on-Trent said that education secretary Michael Gove 'believes in choice – as long as you choose an academy or free school'.

Sara Tomlinson from Lambeth said the freedom given to academies was 'freedom to select, to restrict the curriculum and to make cuts'.

Big cheers went to Alasdair Smith from Islington, who said that academies and free schools posed the question 'Who do schools belong to? Is it to unaccountable businesses or is it to parents, pupils and staff?'

He went on, 'There is a plan, cooked up in corporate boardrooms, to make profit out of state education.'

As Bridget Chapman from Lambeth put it, 'We must fight like we have never fought before'.

Delegates packed into an Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) fringe meeting on Saturday. People sat and stood on whatever spare bits of floor they could find. The size of the meeting reflected the level of concern and anger over the Tories’ drive to push privatisation in schools.

Lib Dem councillor Peter Downes spoke to the meeting. He recently moved a motion against academies and free schools at the Lib Dem conference, highlighting the potential for yet another Tory flagship policy to cause divisions in the coalition.

He denounced academies as “undemocratic” and said they were a recipe for “increasing social division”.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said that there was growing resistance to academies and said applications for strikes against them were going up.

Some of the best speeches came from people who were already resisting. Sarah Dods, a parent and founder of the Save Lincolnshire Schools campaign, urged people to be “proactive, not reactive”.

She said that people shouldn’t wait until an academy proposal was made before starting a campaign. “Assume that it’s going to happen,” she said. “Start campaigning now. Get elected to governing bodies in schools.

“If you’re in the NUT, call a meeting a pass a motion to show you’re opposed to academies.”

Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the AAA, agreed, pointing out that the time between a school applying to become an academy and it being agreed was short.

Chris Denson is an NUT rep at Tile Hill Wood School in Coventry and has struck twice against plans to turn his school into an academy. “Academies are about attacking our terms and conditions and the unions,” he said.

“On our first strike, NASUWT members stood on the picket lines with us before school. It put pressure on the NASUWT. They had to ballot – and on our next strike date, both unions were out together.

“Now Unison is balloting its members in our school. And the NASUWT and NUT are balloting teachers in two other schools in the area. We hope to coordinate strikes against academies in the future.”

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