Strikers, parents and their supporters rallied in east London on Thursday as three-day strikes at two schools came to an end.
NEU union members at two Newham schools, Avenue and Cumberland, are striking against plans to turn the schools into privately-run academies. Their action has unleashed deep anger against privatisation and the fact that ordinary people have such little say about their services.
Dee is a learning mentor at Cumberland school. “We don’t want to lose control over our schools,” she told Socialist Worker. “Academies aren’t accountable and they are less regulated. There’s nobody to question whether CEOs should have a massive pay rise or not.
“We want money for schools to be spent on children.”
Avenue NEU rep Louise told the meeting that the head teacher is wrongly claiming the academy process is inevitable.
“She and the chair of governors can speak to the governing body and say, ‘We’ve made a mistake, let’s stop’,” she said. “They pretend that they can’t do it.”
NEU president Kiri Tunks said the struggle exposed a lack of democracy. Strikers are demanding parent ballots on the academy plans—which heads have so far refused.
“Academies are bad for democracy and they don’t work,” she said. “People are not coming into this out of the goodness of their heart. They are in it to make money.”
She referred to one academy head who was grabbing £500,000 a year. But she said strikers and parent campaigners have shown it is possible to challenge privatisation.
“I can’t tell you how heartening it is to see fights like this,” she said. “That gives us strength.”
School bosses are desperate to undermine the action and demoralise strikers. For instance, staff at Cumberland have been told that the academy plan will be signed off next Tuesday. It’s the day that workers are set to begin another three-day strike.
But as Cumberland NEU rep Carolyn told the meeting, “Rumours have been spread that we’ll be signing any minute now. This has happened since last year.
“In July we were told we’ll be academising on 1 September. Then it was 1 October. Then it was before Christmas. Then it was early in the new year.
“This is done again and again to make us feel it’s a done deal and we can’t do anything about it.”
Workers’ response at Cumberland this week was to vote unanimously to hold three-day strikes every week until the end of term.
School bosses say nothing will change if the schools become academies. But workers know that isn’t true. And they say changes will harm children with special educational needs (SEN) the most.
Dee said that since the academy plans had been floated, things have become worse for children. “They’ve cut the counselling service,” she said. “They’ve cut the support for children who struggle with a full time curriculum.
“It’s like they don’t care.”
Teaching assistant Sandra told the meeting, “When I started at Cumberland school we had 50-51 teaching assistants. Now we’ve got 14.
“They can they say there aren’t enough staff to cover SEN children so we can’t take them in.”
Cumberland parent Chester said the academy plans were part of a wider attack on public services.
“The government is starving schools of money,” he told Socialist Worker. “Ofsted is going into schools and failing them. It puts them into special measures and then they can be academised.
“It’s happening elsewhere too. They drive services down, then say they need to be privatised. This is systematic.”