Parents, strikers and children protested at east London's Excel centre on Wednesday morning, against an academies show. The protest came on the second day of a three-day walkout by NEU union members at Cumberland and Avenue schools in Newham.
Demonstrators chanted, “Education, not privatisation,” and, “Our schools are not for sale.” Parents explained their fears about plans to turn their children’s schools into privately-run academies
Cumberland parent Alicia told Socialist Worker, “They’ve said nothing to us about what’s happening. They just keep saying nothing will change—but things have changed already.
“There used to be a ‘step up centre’ where children with special educational needs (SEN) went in breaks and at lunchtime. My son’s been going to it for three years. But now they’ve said it’s in a building that doesn’t belong to the school. They don’t have it anymore. My son’s been so stressed.”
Sharon is another parent at Cumberland. “I’ve got two children with SEN,” she told Socialist Worker. “If the school becomes an academy, the SEN students will be pushed out. It will be all about the grades, and while some SEN students will get them, others won’t.”
It took Sharon six years to get her son into a mainstream school, and she stressed how important that has been to his life. “I don’t want my kids to be brought up to feel they are any different to anyone else,” she said.
“They need to socialise with other children, not just SEN kids.”
Alicia agreed. “He doesn’t go out, so his life is at school,” she explained. “It feels like we are going back to the 1950s with SEN children being pushed out. My son won’t be able to do his GCSEs and it feels like because of that, he doesn’t matter.”
Avenue school parents also joined the protest. One told Socialist Worker, “The head hasn’t engaged with us. There are lots of different languages spoken by parents, but they just put a letter out in English and that was it.
“There hasn’t been a proper consultation. I think the judicial review that parents are bringing over this will expose all the lies, inconsistencies and disrespect for the community.”
Another Avenue parent denounced the “lack of transparency” in the consultation process. “Why are we being fobbed off?” she asked. “Why are we being lied to? What message does this send to our children?”
Strikes by Newham NEU members, and parent campaigning, has already had a big impact. A number of governing bodies at Newham schools have decided against academisation. And Newham council has taken a position of opposing academies and said schools considering becoming academies should hold ballots of staff and parents.
Labour councillor John Whitworth was on the protest to show his support. “There shouldn’t be profit made out of children’s education,” he told Socialist Worker. “Before our council vote, the council had been officially neutral.
“But there was evidence that some councillors were working with schools to academise.
“Before some people felt schools becoming academies was inevitable. But now there have been several results that indicate the tide is beginning to move against academies.”
At Avenue school parents have held protests during the first two days of strikes this week. Meanwhile at Cumberland, workers were told that school bosses are about to sign documents to make the shift to an academy official.
Workers already plan a three-day strike from next Tuesday. They have now voted to ask the union to sanction more strikes.
Carolyn is the NEU rep at the school. “I’m so proud of our union group,” she told Socialist Worker. “Rumours are always circulating about when the school will become an academy. It’s all about undermining our confidence.
“But we unanimously voted to ask for three-day strikes every week until the end of term.”
Carolyn added that the dispute has transformed the union group at the school—and that the strikes have taken place in a difficult situation. “Our school was classed as ‘coasting’,” she explained. “It feels like all the arguments are against us.
“But the teaching assistants—the most vulnerable and low paid—are out on the picket lines.”
Avenue campaigners plan to lobby the school governors on Thursday from 5.30pm. And there’s a strike rally on Thursday from 10am, plus a “festival for community schools” on Friday.
School heads and governors have tried to ram through the academy plans. But their arguments are so far losing.
As Cumberland student Hope told the protest, “Students are not being told the truth. We are told the strikes are all about money. But me and my mum will always back the people who are striking.”