‘OPENING SCHOOLS TO THE MARKETPLACE IS WRONG’ – NUT slams Barclays’ support for Academies

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The National Union of Teachers (NUT) on Thursday slammed the announcement by Michael Gove that Barclays Bank will be supporting Academies, Free Schools, University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools.

NUT general secretary, Christine Blower said: ‘Opening schools up to the market place is simply wrong.

‘Children and young people should not be influenced at an impressionable age by whichever large company manages to gain a foothold in their school.

‘This is, of course, Michael Gove’s vision for the future of education in this country.

‘It is extraordinarily flawed and will most certainly result in a two-tier system.

‘Schools in deprived areas whose pupils do not fit the right socio-economic profile will not get the help, financial or otherwise, from business.

‘Any successful business’s involvement in a school will surely be decided on what returns they can reap for themselves.

‘Removing schools from the democratically accountable expertise and support that local authorities provide is a disastrous move.

‘Education provided by the state and paid for by the tax payer should be an opportunity for everyone, regardless of background, to achieve the very best they can.

‘While becoming a golden goose for big business, Michael Gove’s Academies and Free Schools policy is utterly undermining the principle of a fair education for all.’

In the face of massive opposition to an Academy project, from parents and teachers in Haringey, on Tuesday Gove ordered Ofsted to undertake an inspection at Downhills Primary School

Governors at the Haringey school, north London, welcomed the chance for an inspection as they insist its attainment records are improving.

They refute Department for Education claims that the school has struggled to retain the required standards of education over the past 10 years.

Lawyers representing Downhills’ governing body have sent a statement of claim to the Department for Education, claiming Gove is illegally attempting to force Academy status on the school.

Downhills governor Roger Sahota said the action was premature ahead of the next Ofsted inspection and that the Education Secretary had acted unlawfully.

Gove was given a fortnight to respond to the claims or he risked a judicial review into his decision.

• The NUT gave short shrift to the Department of Education’s latest announcement on the number of schools taking up the government’s new phonics products and training, and their disappointment that the take up has not been higher.

NUT general secretary Blower said: ‘As with the Academies programme the government is determined that all those authorities and schools which do not see the merits of synthetic phonics will be bullied, harassed, named and shamed until they feel they have no choice but to accept the latest dictat from above.

‘This is extraordinary behaviour from a Department whose ministers have made much of trusting the profession and allowing those who know to get on with it.

‘Riding roughshod over the views of teachers, head teachers and communities is now regrettably becoming an almost daily occurrence.

‘Synthetic phonics is one way of teaching reading but it is not the only one.

‘A message has been given loud and clear to the government by professionals that they want the freedom to adopt whatever method best suits their children and not be pushed down a one-size-fits-all route.

‘That approach would most certainly be failing our children and young people.’

Fellow teaching union NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: ‘The fact that “thousands” of schools are signing up for phonics funding should not be taken as support for the government’s policy of imposing phonics on schools.

‘This is a dash for cash, driven by school budgets being slashed.

‘The government’s mantra of “trust the professionals” has a hollow ring in the context of imposing a one-size-fits-all policy dictating how teachers will teach all children to read.’

• The chief executives leading the coalition’s multi-billion pound apprenticeship schemes have both announced they are to step down.

Skills Funding Agency (SFA) chief executive Geoff Russell will leave his position in the summer.

The SFA has faced accusations of misuse of public money by training providers and an inquiry is to start next month.

Russell’s departure coincided with the resignation of Simon Waugh, head of the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS).

In his letter of resignation, Russell stated that having ‘completed his task’ of setting up the SFA, ‘it is time to move on’ and ‘return to retirement’.

Meanwhile, a leaked private letter from Russell to Skills Minister John Hayes, sent in May 2011, warned that the misuse of public funds was ‘likely to increase in the context of funding challenges and greater levels of sub-contracting’.

Announcing his resignation, NAS chief executive Simon Waugh cited his wish to spend more time with his family.

NAS has responsibility for promoting apprenticeships to employers and increasing the numbers taking part in programmes.

The two resignations on Monday came after a series of criticisms over the way public funds are being spent on apprenticeship provision, including the fact that money was being ploughed into apprenticeships lasting just twelve weeks.

Skills Minister Hayes announced in December 2011 that there would be a review into the quality and duration of all apprenticeship schemes, and a major House of Commons select committee inquiry is also under way.

The National Apprenticeship Service confirmed that 45 colleges and training providers were currently being looked at as part of the quality review.

A recent investigation by the BBC’s 5 live Investigates revealed how one scheme which promised to train teenagers as football coaches swallowed £6 million of taxpayers’ money and left thousands of those taking part without a qualification.

Luis Michael Training (LMT) was run by ex-professional footballers Mark Aizlewood and Paul Sugrue, but had its contract with further education colleges terminated due to what the colleges termed ‘irregularities’.

The BBC heard from young people who were enrolled but who did not know they were taking part in an apprenticeship scheme, and others who were not paid despite being entitled to a weekly wage.

Labour MP Adrian Bailey, chairman of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills select committee, told the BBC that this apprenticeship scheme was ‘probably the worst example of a series of scandals that does seem to be emerging across a whole range of businesses and obviously makes the proposed investigation by my select committee more relevant than ever’.

The committee is due to start an inquiry into apprenticeships and the role of the NAS next month.