Labour Party members and supporters heard Jean Roberts, member of the Anti-Academies Alliance (AAA)and the National Education Union (NEU) , explain why the AAA is committed to the ending the academisation of our schools.The meeting was held on Saturday 16th February, at the GWRSA Club in Bridgwater, and those present drew up a plan of action to campaign in Somerset for an education service where all schools are democratic, inclusive, comprehensive, progressive and fully funded.
Academies, originally introduced by a Labour Government under Tony Blair are coming under criticism for a number of reasons, among them:
- A 2017 report on academies concluded that: “There is no evidence that schools judged as good, satisfactory or inadequate improved their pupils’ GCSE attainment as a result of the academy conversion”. In other words, the problems of “failing” schools, at both primary and secondary levels, are not solved by becoming academies.
- Staff turnover is high in academies, and staff are paid less than in local authority maintained schools. because academies can set their own pay, terms and conditions and thus are able to ignore national agreements. This is not good for the well-being of pupils or staff.
- A recent Panorama programme highlighted dodgy business practices within academies, involving false invoices. A Schools Week Investigation in 2016 revealed academy bosses claiming expenses to the tune of £1 million. Examples of potential conflicts of interest, through academies employing and/or trading with family members rose by 50% in 2016.
- Academies are increasingly employing unqualified teachers at primary and secondary level
- Academies, run by Multi-Academy Trusts, are not accountable to parents and there is no local democratic control over, for example the appointment of trustees.
‘Lack of democracy and accountability’
Speakers expressed a variety of issues, often based on their own experience of academies.
Language Tutor Hilary Bruce is worried that performance measurement in schools is leading increasingly to the practice of “off-rolling” students with special educational needs or disabilities, particularly in academy schools in some multi-academy trusts. “This is not education, but discrimination, and because academies do not have to elect a board of governors there is a complete lack of democracy and accountability”.
‘Children treated as Data’
Student Gemma Shanahan said: “The thing I find the worst is the way our children are treated as data. They’re not allowed to be children. So much pressure is put on them and the teachers to get to ‘expected standards’ in Maths and English, that we have completely forgotten other subjects that our students may excel in. Our system needs radical change and I really hope Labour will do this. “
‘Expertise has been lost’
Margaret Layton retired after 44 successful years in education stated. “At 69 I went back as a volunteer only to be told by some overpaid consultant that I was failing some of the pupils, a group I had no contact with. Says it all really! I am concerned about all the expertise that has been lost at Local Education Authority level. This would need to be put back, if schools are to regain their autonomy in the state system.”
The Labour Party, since the 2018 Annual Conference is committed to halting all academy conversions and new free schools when it is elected to Government. In the meantime, Labour-controlled authorities must strongly oppose any further academisation, and the Labour Party must campaign strongly for the truth about academies to be widely known
Glen Burrows, who chaired the meeting, said “Most of Somerset’s schools are now academies. We need to find out what is happening in them, in terms of how money is being spent and staff turnover and pupil attainment. Then we need to publish that information.Education unions could argue for Joint Consultative Committees to be set up, so that staff have a say in decision-making.Parents could campaign for parents to be elected as governors and Parent-Teacher Associations to be set up.Our education system is being privatised and run for profit under our noses. Let’s fight together to build a National Education Service that is locally maintained and accountable”