NO! TO ‘ZOMBIE MULTI-ACADEMY TRUSTS’ say Greenwich teachers and parents

Teachers marching in London against forced academisation of schools
Teachers marching in London against forced academisation of schools

TEACHERS and parents at The John Roan secondary school in Greenwich are determined to defeat an academy order issued by the Tory government calling for the school to join the University Schools Trust.

Despite Tory forced academisation leading to an outbreak of ‘zombie multi-academy trusts’, leaving schools and pupils in limbo, schools are still being forced into academisation. Greenwich councillors and the local Labour MP Matthew Pennycook have spoken out against the John Roan school being turned into an academy.

A campaign against academisation has had a petition backed by more than 1,000 people, and there have been several days of strike action at the school. A group of parents and teachers, led by the National Education Union, have launched a crowdfunding campaign to challenge the Ofsted decision legally.

Tim Woodcock, divisional secretary Greenwich NEU, said the union speaks for over 60 members of staff that are ‘implacably opposed’ to becoming an academy. He said: ‘The NEU will continue to fight with our members at The John Roan against this unjust system. ‘If we fight we have a chance of winning for this school and this community – if we do nothing we have lost already.

‘As a union we often face what appear to be insurmountable odds however, our members know that much of what has been won already – for example the council support in the school; the school opening this term as a community school; posts being advertised and positions filled; curriculum options remaining and many others – are as a direct result of the action that teachers and support staff have taken in support of their pupils, their community and their school.’

Nearby, a Charlton primary school is also considering becoming an academy.

A row has broken out in Greenwich between Sherington Primary School and the council, after the school wrote to parents to say it was considering leaving the authority’s care. The school, which was rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, wrote that funding cuts have meant it must ‘consider its future’.

One angry parent, Vicky Makepeace, who organised a meeting for staff and fellow parents, said: ‘My older two boys did really well at Sherington and enjoyed their time there. I want my youngest two children to have that experience. ‘Turning the school into an academy will take away parents’ rights, kids’ rights and teachers’ rights. ‘The school is not underachieving, academies don’t care about children with special needs, these kids will get pushed out by the academy or they will not support them. Sherington has caring teachers, support team and parents.’

Pennycook said: ‘I’m both puzzled and concerned that Sherington Primary School has confirmed that they are exploring joining a Multi-Academy Trust. ‘I know of no pressing challenges that require this outstanding local school to consider altering its existing structure, let alone a robust case for rushing toward a decision in principle to convert to an academy in the near future.’

Pennycook added: ‘I urge the headteacher and the governing body to think again about whether there is a genuine need to consider changes to the school’s structure at this time and to consult extensively and meaningfully with parents and carers in the weeks and months ahead, not just about alternative structures but the principle of whether adopting an alternative structure should even be under consideration.’

Elsewhere, at the end of the summer holiday, staff at The Village School in Kingsbury, north west London, received a letter from the school saying that its planned forced academisation has temporarily been put on hold.

The letter stated: ‘The academy conversion and MAT set up are temporarily delayed.

‘We are still awaiting a report from the Education and Skills Funding Agency regarding historical compliance matters at Woodfield Academy Trust.’ This is the latest development in a long-running fight against forced academisation of the school, which has involved a series of strikes.

Brent NEU sent an Freedom of Information (FoI) request to the school, to Brent LA and Martin Post, the Regional Schools Commissioner at the DfE, which said: ‘Clearly something is worrying the DfE about the Village/Woodfield MAT proposal, leading to the forced academisation being put “temporarily” on hold.’

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union said: ‘It is clear that the academies sector and schools as a whole are feeling the effects of an unsustainable funding model.’

Commenting on a report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) into converting schools to academies, she said: ‘The report is a damning indictment of the Department for Education’s flagship education policy, pursued since 2010 under both the Coalition and Conservative governments, and the failures identified cannot be resolved by tinkering with an academy system which is inherently flawed, unaccountable and causing serious damage to England’s education system.

‘The scale of academy trust failures has been shocking and the PAC is right to highlight that children’s education has paid the heaviest price, along with taxpayers who have had to pick up the significant costs of academy re-brokering. ‘It is also good that the PAC has raised the lack of transparency for parents in academies.

‘The NEU believe that academies should be required to cooperate with local councils on school place planning and admissions and the DfE should ensure this takes place. ‘We agree with the suggestion that the DfE should contribute to the costs which local authorities incur when schools become academies – sums for which they are largely not reimbursed – and reduces the services and support councils can continue to offer to maintained schools.’

Meanwhile, commenting on Equity in Education, the latest report in the Pisa series from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Monday, the NEU’s Dr Mary Bousted said: ‘This is a shocking indictment of eight years of Conservative-led education policies. ‘The report makes clear that a child’s socio-economic background continues to exert the greatest influence on student achievement, particularly in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

‘It also highlights the fact that in England, inequalities in student performance grow markedly between adolescence and early adulthood. As the fifth wealthiest global economy, this is shameful. ‘It is the government’s responsibility to create the conditions in which children are well fed and clothed and living in decent accommodation.

‘These are the basic conditions for learning. Yet there are over four million children living in poverty in the UK currently, two thirds of whom are in working families. ‘The report notes that initial learning and development are largely influenced by factors relating to family background and early environments.

‘It highlights the extent to which high-quality early years education has a crucial positive influence on mitigating the effect of disadvantage. ‘Yet 1,000 Sure Start Centres have closed in England since 2010 and the government’s much trumpeted 30 hours of free childcare offer has flopped, with providers unable to provide the places at the rates the government has made available.

‘One of the report’s most powerful findings is that reforms aimed at increasing school choice actually worsen inequality between schools. ‘This has certainly been the experience in England with the Conservative’s “choice agenda” entrenching and exacerbating inequality within the school system.

‘The NEU welcomes the OECD’s recommendations that policy-makers should increase resources for schools serving disadvantaged communities. ‘The NEU also welcomes the recommendation that government should create a comprehensive entitlement to early years education for all children.

‘This report should act as a wake-up call to the government. ‘Its so-called school “reforms” since 2010 have not only failed to achieve their stated aim of raising education quality, they have significantly widened inequality and entrenched disadvantage throughout a child’s schooling and into adulthood.’