"Business people in sharp suits are coming..."
Salford and Eccles MP, Rebecca Long-Bailey, laid into the Tory Government's schools agenda at a Salford City UNISON-hosted Question Time at Buile Hill Park Hall on Saturday.
"I don't think a lot of parents understand what academies are and what the future holds for our schools" she said "We need to educate them and have a co-ordinated strategy where parents are outside schools on a designated day to get national media coverage.
"Unfortunately this Bill is going through, and the only way we can do anything about it at this stage is by creating as much uproar as possible; and at the same time try to mitigate against what might happen should we not be successful in campaigning" she added "We've got to have a two tiered approach and that involves politicians as well..."
Only one councillor, Kate Lewis, attended the event, called by UNISON `to have the fullest debate' as `the latest Government Education and Adoption Bill seems intended to force another wave of school academies'.
Rebecca Long-Bailey told the audience that the Parliamentary Labour Party has tabled eighty amendments to the "scandalous" Bill, which had all been ignored by the Conservative Government.
The Education and Adoption Bill seeks to convert, not only failing schools but also `coasting' schools into academies. And, as speakers noted, it will be a Regional Schools Commissioner and the Secretary of State who will ultimately have the power to force academisation of Salford schools, meaning more centralisation and less democratic local control.
While a representative of Consilium Academies - which is eyeing up Salford schools - ducked out of the Question Time at the last minute, the three remaining speakers were all against the principle of academies but had different ways of dealing with the issue.
Alasdair Smith, from the Anti Academies Alliance, and who has been teaching for over twenty years, pointed out that there's no evidence to show that academies improve the performances of schools....The "comprehensive system is being dismantled brick by brick" he added "power is being handed to unelected chief executives and businesses" and the only way to stop it is by political activity...
"Business people in sharp suits are coming" he said, painting a picture of "a Wild West of rogue head teachers, appointing their friends and believing in profit with no morals...
"We have to offer a different vision and hope" he insisted "The only way to protect Salford is to fight...If head teachers and governors stand against this, will Cameron send in the tanks? What have we got to lose?...If we keep accepting defeat after defeat they will run riot. This about a segregated education run for profit...Why are we accepting this if it is not popular?"
David Wootton, CEO of Salford Academy Trust (SAT) who started teaching at Buile Hill in 1997, said people had to "wake up to the reality" that Salford schools will be "carved up", and that his Salford Academy Trust – with the involvement of Salford College (75% control), Salford University (12.5% control) and Salford City Council (12.5% control) - was set up as a `solution' to mitigate against the worst excesses of academies...
"If this is going to happen, why don't we take control of our own destiny?" he said "There are times when it pays to be a pragmatist...I prefer doing the right thing by our kids, rather than being mown down" he argued, in answer to those who wanted to resist the Government... "King Canute drowned didn't he?"
Rebecca Long-Bailey, literally sat in the middle of the other two speakers, was up for political activity and `mitigation' but added that it was a "frightening time for children whose schools are converted into academies...We can't not campaign on it as they will push this through as fast as they can and people will only realise when it's too late..."
Jenny Langley, Head Teacher at Albion Academy, part of SAT, argued that everyone was "fighting the wrong battle"; it was about north versus south, and rural versus cities, where resources had been concentrated... "It should be about funding, not the description of the school"...
Judith Elderkin from the NUT said there were three or four schools in Salford flirting with becoming academies as heads were "worried sick" about their OFSTED reports. She compared the results/ratings-driven culture of academy threats to the Premier League...Head teachers, she argued, were becoming "like football managers at the two Manchester clubs".
Ameen Hadi, from UNISON, explained that in Salford the direction of schools happened "behind closed doors" and wanted parents and pupils to make decisions on acadamies. He called for a commitment for each school to have a debate on the issues "to hear all sides"...
Summing up, David Wootton said the Salford Academy Trust was about "running our schools in our city"; Rebecca Long-Bailey emphasised the need to fight the Government... "What they've put on the table is disgraceful and it is creating a Wild West" she explained, slating the "commercialisation and privatisation" of academies, "run in the interests of profit - and that is not what education is about."
Alasdair Smith, from the Anti Academies Alliance, stressed how unpopular the privatisation of the school system is... "We need to put the community at the heart of running the school and academies don't do that" he said "The only way to get social change is by political action...Get out and campaign!"
* Chatsworth High Special School begins consulting on Thursday to become a multi-academy trust.
For more background on academies see previous Salford Star article – Could Every School In Salford Become Privatised? – click here