Ark, EACT and the Harris Academy chain have announced business plans to double the number of academies they control. They are also using the new opportunities to create free schools.
It is a strategy that fits hand in glove with cuts to education budgets and the Tories’ idea of a “smaller state”. In education minister Michael Gove’s world the future is for more and more schools to be privatised so that by the end of the parliament academies are “the norm”.
This is an aggressive, expansionist policy. In one south London borough an academy chain is threatening a Tory-controlled authority: give us a local school or we’ll set up a free school in your area. The New Schools Network – a “charitable” front for edubusiness – has been given £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to search the length and breadth of the country to find opportunities to set up new schools. In Con-Dem coalition rhetoric this is all about “empowering” parents and teachers in the “Big Society”. But in reality it is about undermining the structures of local state education.
The aim is to undermine, if not terminate, the role of local authorities in education. This will create a deregulated market. From such a vantage point it will only be a matter of time before equality and social justice are further undermined as schools become increasingly segregated. The local family of schools approach has not always been perfect but it has secured a huge improvement in the education of our children. The coalition wants to destroy this.
But these plans are meeting serious resistance. Where teachers and parents mobilise, the process of conversion to academy status can be halted. The Anti Academies Alliance (AAA) and the education unions have been warning of the dangers for many years. Public awareness is growing, but too often parents are seduced by the exaggerated claims of academies’ success. In some parts of the country schools have converted to academy status without parents noticing! The law only requires minimal consultation and it takes just one vote at one governing body to secure academy status.
Vigorous local campaigns have stopped academy conversions, but the process will hasten unless new ways are found to target all schools considering whether to convert. Parents, teachers and local communities need to be vigilant and should alert their union or the AAA if they have any suspicions.
The most effective way to fight academies is through strike action. Teachers and support staff can take industrial action to prevent conversion. But local authorities and ward councillors can also help by raising the alarm. Ed Miliband’s view is not yet clear, but many Labour MPs – and some Lib Dems – are vigorously opposed to the new Gove academies and free schools.
Uniting our communities in a fight to defend local state education is crucial to halting this flagship Tory policy. Situating this fight against academies in the wider struggle against cuts and privatisation makes a lot of sense too. Brendan Barber quipped at the TUC that the coalition would face anti poll tax style revolts. It is time to make that a reality.
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