Last week parents, teachers and support staff in Islington, north London, won a stunning victory. They forced ARK, a charity run by a group of bankers and hedge fund speculators, to pull out of a scheme to create an independent but state-funded academy on the sites of Islington Green and Moreland schools.
Our success is a huge boost for the growing national campaign to halt New Labour’s plans to create 200 such semi-privatised schools by 2010.
ARK claims it decided to pull out because the academy plans had turned out to be too complicated. It is funny that nothing was said about this publicly until last week.
Indeed as recently as 9 April ARK representatives and the head of Islington Green school told a community consultation meeting how exciting the plans for the new school were. No mention there or at the more recent consultation meetings with school staff of complications.
What persuaded ARK to pull out was the imaginative and increasingly effective campaign we waged to defend comprehensive state education in Islington. We have held two successful public meetings, protested on the steps of the town hall, petitioned and maintained a high profile in the press.
We planned to remake Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”, changing “Hey! Teachers, leave those kids alone” to “Hey! Bankers, leave those kids alone”, and we recently demonstrated outside ARK’s headquarters in Westminster with two people dressed as fat cats.
Partly as a result of our campaign, Moreland governors voted a fortnight ago to reject the academy proposals and its millionaire sponsors. This, perhaps, was the final straw.
We have won a battle but the war goes on. Already, there are suggestions that a new sponsor, the City of London Corporation, is being lined for a new academy for 11-19 year olds on the Islington Green site.
The Corporation, the City’s municipal governing body, is “elected” by businesses in the Square Mile which have votes allocated to them according to how many employees they have got — a kind of bosses’ soviet.
If the Corporation does decide it wants to sponsor an Islington Green academy, we will have to take up where we left off with ARK. After all, if we were opposed to a charity set up by fat cat bankers running our schools, why should we want an undemocratic oligarchy chosen by fat cat bankers controlling them instead?
The fight to stop St Mary Magdalene primary school being shut in order to create a monster 1,400 student academy for 0-19 year olds will go on. This fight will include a demand that the adjudicator appointed to decide whether to close the school or not, Elizabeth Passmore, should be disqualified.
Passmore was involved in failing Islington Green school eight years ago against the advice of Her Majesty’s Inspectors and until recently she worked for GEMS, the company that owns 3E’s Enterprises, the project managers for the proposed academy.
Academies will create a two-tier system of education based on social class. This conclusion is one shared with the parliamentary select committee on education and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the accounting and consulting firm commissioned by the government to report on academies.
They undermine equal opportunities and are unaccountable to the local community.
Just because Islington does not need academies, however, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need more resources to improve its schools.
Islington Against Academies, which is supported by parents, teachers and support staff unions, is now calling on Lib Dem council leader, Steve Hitchens, and Islington’s two Labour MPs, Emily Thornberry and Jeremy Corbyn, to join with us in demanding that the government provides the funding necessary to rebuild or refurbish all Islington schools, with no strings attached.
We are told by supporters of the academy plans that our children deserve better and we agree wholeheartedly.
In which case, should we allow them to become the victims of government blackmail which threatens to refuse its “Building Schools for the Future” funding if Islington does not fall into line with New Labour’s evangelical free market cult?
The government is prepared to give nearly £60 million to two private sponsors to take over local schools. Let them instead hand the money over directly so that all Islington children can benefit, not just a privileged minority.
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