OVER 5,000 angry teachers marched in London on Wednesday night against the government’s plan to force state schools to become academies.
Teachers chanted ‘Nicky Morgan on your bike. What we need is a teachers’ strike!’ and ‘Doctors and teachers unite and strike!’ Teachers assembling for the march outside Westminster Cathedral spoke to News Line about their concerns.
Lambeth NUT member Suzy Lezameta said, ‘It’s privatisation by the back door, selling off public assets that I have paid for. As soon as you introduce a private entity, it’s all about money.’ Suzy’s friend Meadhbh Hassett said, ‘It’s very scary, that they are getting rid of qualified teacher status.’
NUT member Sophie Wildman from Highgate Wood School in north London told News Line: ‘Academies are just another way of decentralising education. They are abdicating responsibility for a coordinated education system. State education is a joined up system, a community of schools. Academies are allowed to pay teachers less and pile on the workload.’
Hammersmith NUT member Patrick O’Sullivan said, ‘I’m here to oppose what I see as a long-term plan to bring the privateers into the education sector. It will create systemic chaos, with a lot of grey areas with conflicts of interest and will produce corruption.’
Teachers son, Claude Trolloppe told News Line, ‘I’m opposed to academies because they want to turn children into commodities and it undermines the relation between teachers and pupils. Academies are expelling children, not for the benefit of the child but for their own interests.’
Parents Eleanor and Lee Preston travelled all the way from Southampton to join the march with their children Imogen, six, and Arya, 10 months. Eleanor told News Line: ‘Imogen attends Valentine Primary School and it is a fantastic school with really hardworking teachers. We don’t want unqualified teachers, we don’t want to lose our parent governors and our voice. Our children’s future is more important than any government targets. The focus should be on the children and their education, and it is not for sale!’
Joining teachers on the march, Mona Kamal said: ‘I’m here because teachers and doctors are in the same fight. This government is out to privatise our most precious public institutions. They want to transfer more public assets into the pockets of the rich. They are not benefiting schools and hospitals and the local communities.
‘Now is the time for everyone to unite. Ultimately the only way we will win is by joint strike action across the public sector.’
After the march, a packed rally was held in the Emmanuel Centre in central London. Chairing the rally, NUT President Phillippa Harvey said to rapturous applause that teachers were marching this evening in Leeds, Norwich, Manchester and many other cities.
The rally gave a standing ovation to the first speaker, junior doctor, Aislinn Macklin-Doherty. She said, ‘I wanted to come and express a sense of solidarity with all of you.
‘We know what it feels like and what you are going through. It’s important to start making links across not just health but the whole public sector.
‘You have Nicky Morgan, we have Jeremy Hunt – same rhetoric carving up health and education into businesses. We have Hunt with his “I love the NHS” badge while at the same time imposing devastating contracts that will cripple the NHS. He insults us, bullies us, and then does it anyway. As you may know the BMA has escalated the strike action as it has become clear about the malicious intent of this government. We must start to unite these struggles as this is about more than contracts or academies.
It’s about standing up for the kind of services we want and I will stand up and fight for that. 30,000 junior doctors have got your backing.’
The rally spontaneously responded, ‘Teachers and doctors unite and strike!’ The next speaker, Megan Quinn, from Gospel Oak primary school in Camden said, ‘What makes me so proud to be a teacher is to be part of so many years of hard work on the part of the Camden community of schools that has put so much commitment into my school.
‘We teach music, sport philosophy, have school visits and the children have just participated in a concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Our children are rewarded with opportunities as a result of local education provision – it is evidence that state education works. The only threat to this is the government’s Department of Education.
‘As education professionals we know what our children need. They need to stop assessing about meaningless outcomes and start focussing on the children. We cannot afford to lose our teacher and parent governors they are people who care – these are our schools.’
Labour Party shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell condemned the forced academy policy as a ‘costly and unnecessary reform that nobody needs. It will harm standards, not raise them; it is irresponsible and reckless. Primary schools will be most affected as over 80 per cent are regarded by Ofsted as outstanding,’ she added.
John Richards, Unison Education sector, brought greetings from 240,000 support staff. I am sure my union will be committing ourselves to your campaign,’ he told the rally. Forcing academies is an ideological position based on dogma. They say there is a reduction in local authority capacity, but the government has deliberately reduced that capacity. They want to replace democratic governors with unelected and unaccountable figures. Stop this disastrous bill.’
ATL President Mary Bousted told the rally, ‘No-one believes Nicky Morgan when she says academy trusts improve standards. They also can’t keep on top of academy spending either. The Tory-run Local Government Authorities don’t agree with the academy policy. Who believes that Lord Nash and Lord Harris are the ones who know how to run schools? Even Sir Michael Wilshaw doesn’t agree.
‘How can paying academy chairs hundreds of thousands of pounds be justified? In seven trusts alone £8.5 million has been paid out on consultancy, not on children’s education. Teaching as a public service will be smashed, parents will be taken out of the picture. It’s about running schools as businesses. We need to put these broad alliances into practice.’
Kevin Courtney, NUT Deputy General Secretary, thanked Camden NUT for calling the successful evening’s march at such short notice. It’s not just the usual suspects who agree with our campaign. The Conservative leader of Cameron’s own Oxfordshire council has called the policy “big brother gone mad”,’ he told the rally.
He continued: ‘That there is such opposition to this government means we can defeat them. Teacher shortages, funding crisis, pupil placement, they are doing nothing to address these real issues. They are systematically driving the public out of education decision making. They have no mandate; there was not one word of this in their manifesto.
‘We have to stand and fight. They want to end our involvement. We have to give this warning: we will have to strike if they insist on removing our right,’ he said to a roar of support from the rally crowd. Go back and talk to parents and heads and organise for the biggest union meeting you’ve had in years.’