by Ken Muller, assistant branch secretary of Islington NUT (personal capacity)
Three weeks ago we heard that three primary schools in Islington were proposing to form a chain of academies.
None of the schools had NUT union reps and we had struggled to get in to them to meet with our members. Two of us had been turned away at the school gates before Easter.
“Consultation” had already begun and is due to end with governors coming to a final decision in the second week of June.
It all looked pretty hopeless but we decided to have a go, prioritising the school – New North – where we had the least contact with members.
We have leafleted the schools from outside, held meeting with members in two of them and organised a meeting at the third.
At the New North and William Tyndale meetings – which were well-attended – union members all took Anti-Academy Alliance (AAA) briefings and agreed to hold staff ballots on the academy conversion proposals.
Two weeks ago we set up a meeting between the Islington Council leader, Catherine West, the Executive member for Education, Richard Watts, and officers of the NUT, GMB and Unison unions.
We agreed a plan of action to oppose the academies, starting with a public meeting close to New North, to be followed by ones at the other two schools.
We have had two weeks of excellent coverage in both the local Islington papers.
We have rattled the heads and governors of the schools – who have accused us “intimidating” parents by giving them anti-academy briefings.
Then we had the meeting at New North. It was brilliant.
About thirty people turned up, including a few teachers and a lot of Somali parents – whose children make up a sizeable proposition of the school roll.
All of us made a lot of the fact that a private company, Strictly Education – which currently provides human resources to the three schools and stands to gain enormously by expanding its involvement in the event of the school converting, is not only carrying out the consultation but also writing up the final report.
When we finished speaking one Somali woman started speaking very angrily in her mother tongue. Was she for the academy (the head had told Somali parents they would get extra money spent on their children) or was she against? Then someone translated.
“We are being bulldozed in to something none of us want. We don’t want or school run by private business. We don’t want it to break away from the local authority,” she had said.
Other mums who could speak English supported her furiously. “At first hey kept it quiet. Then they allowed only a couple of weeks to find out what its is all about after giving us one leaflet written only in English in small print so many parent can’t understand it. And now they are getting Strictly Education – which stands to make a lot of money if the school becomes an academy to carry out the consultation and report back on it.”
Several other parents asked, “What can we do?”
A parent at another local school told them how her child’s head and governors had rejected becoming an academy and that New North parents should find out who the parent governors are and demand they do the same.
Inspired by these wonderful women, I told them that the head teacher, the pro-academy governors and Strictly were treating them as if they had no voice and no power. But they had proved tonight that they did have a voice and they did have power.
They should draw up a petition, get as many parents as possible to sign and they should organise a demonstration outside the next governors meeting when they could hand it in.
All the parents supported the idea. The school privatisers in Islington now have a real fight on their hands.