Campaigners against the introduction of privately run city academy schools in Islington, north London, sniff the scent of victory. They have uncovered a scandalous conflict of interest at the heart of the bid.
A popular and successful primary school, St Mary Magdalene, is under threat of closure to make way for one of two planned academies.
The government’s schools adjudicator, Elizabeth Passmore, is to decide whether the scheme goes ahead.
Until two weeks ago she was on a panel of advisers to Global Education Management Systems (Gems), a private education provider that runs 13 schools in Britain and wants to take over more under Labour’s city academies scheme.
Gems has taken over 3E’s Enterprises, the company hired to design the proposed academy that Passmore is due to rule on.
The conflict of interest does not stop there, say campaigners. Eight years ago Passmore was a senior Ofsted inspector. At the time Ofsted was run by Chris Woodhead, who ignored a positive independent inspection into Islington Green School and instead declared it as failing.
The second proposed city academy in Islington is to be built out of the closure of Islington Green. Opposition among parents and teachers in Islington is growing.
They held a lively protest outside the offices of Ark, the organisation run by hedge fund speculators that is earmarked to run the academy on the ruins of Islington Green school.
A committee of MPs has already called for a moratorium on building academies. They identified serious problems with the plan to hand £5 billion of public money to private companies to take over 200 schools.
Campaigners against academies are making progress. The governors of St Mary Magdalene school are understood to have passed a resolution expressing grave doubts about Gems taking over.
A recent council committee meeting in Liberal Democrat run Islington was expected to unanimously approve the academy plan for St Mary Magdalene. But pressure from campaigners forced a hung vote, which led to the decision being referred to the school adjudicator.
Last week a leading Liberal Democrat councillor resigned from the party and joined the opposition Labour group, saying she would campaign against the academies.
Ken Muller, the NUT union rep at Islington Green school, told last week’s protest, “The campaign has made real progress. The more parents find out what is proposed, the more they are opposed to it.
“It really is handing over public assets to privateers, who put in only a small proportion of funding, much of that is in kind.
“There are signals that we are on the verge of a victory in Islington. But we are escalating the campaign and are seeking to link up with other campaigners in different localities.”
The government’s attempt to sell the academies scheme suffered a fresh blow at the weekend when it was forced to admit it had bailed out the Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough to the tune of £1.4 million.
The news undermined the spin New Labour put on an expensive report it commissioned from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), which was meant to sell the scheme.
Steve Sinnott, NUT general secretary, said of the report:
“There are disturbing issues which PwC highlight such as confusion over special educational needs, poor behaviour and bullying which, had academies not been excluded from receiving local authority support, could have been addressed.
“The government has sought to spin the most optimistic picture of the report but the fundamental criticisms remain. There has been a high turnover of head teachers and one of the first three academies has been placed in special measures.
“Even this highly spun report concedes that five out of the 11 academies covered have shown little or no improvement.”