WE ARE FIGHTING ON! – Teachers set up ‘tree houses’ in struggle against academies

Teachers at their final barbecue on Friday before being told they must leave their tents at Wembley Park Sports Ground
Teachers at their final barbecue on Friday before being told they must leave their tents at Wembley Park Sports Ground

TEACHERS who have been occupying the site of a planned City Academy at Wembley Park Sports Ground, next to Wembley Stadium in north-west London, vowed to continue their struggle at the weekend.

This was despite being told they must leave the site.

Hank Roberts, a member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) national executive and the national executive of the ATL, told News Line: ‘We’ve built an aerial tent city! It shows our level of determination.

‘We’re also intending tonight to occupy the site adjacent. This is because Brent council have told the current leasees that if they don’t evict us, they’ll evict them immediately.’

He alleged the council ‘ratted’ after initially promising to extend the lease of the site by one year to the users, only to demand they get rid of the Anti-Academy occupation or be evicted themselves.

‘As far as we’re concerned it’s blackmail,’ he said.

And according to Roberts, the occupiers were initially to be given less than three days’ notice to quit, being threatened that they must leave the Friday before the new school term started (August 31).

He continued: ‘The leasees of the site said that this was an utterly unreasonable time limit and some of the teachers who had put up tents here were still on holiday and they weren’t prepared to throw their stuff out on the streets.

‘In going from the present leasees’ site, we understand that they will be given the lease for another year and we see this is a victory.

‘It means nothing would be done for another a year.’

Jean Roberts, Hammersmith and Fulham ATL secretary and vice-president of Hammersmith and Fulham NUT, said: ‘I think the outlook for education is quite dire if we follow the route of Trust schools and Academies.

‘This occupation has shown you can do something, as other groups have shown around the country, and more people need to wake up to the danger to state education.

‘In the 1990s, they closed secondary schools in the south of Brent, so a lot of children go out of the borough or they have to travel to the north of Brent.

‘They are now proposing an Academy in the south as well as an Academy at Wembley.

‘They’ve been forced to say they’ll build an Academy in the south because of our campaign, but we are opposed to Academies anywhere.

‘We want state-run education under local education authority control.’

Lesley Gouldbourne, an NUT official and chair of the Brent teachers panel, said of the occupation, which started in March: ‘I think this action is very important and part of a broader fight against the privatisation of state assets.

‘We’ve seen what’s happened with the privatisation of the railways and we’ve seen what happens with privatisation of parts of the health service, like dentistry: those who are poor go without.

‘We owe it to our children and our children’s children to take a stand, and we have had a lot of support in Brent, as well as nationally.’

She said: ‘We’ve had very good relations with the people who lease this site.

‘This isn’t the end of the struggle by any means at all.

‘We are now submitting objections to Brent council’s planning committee to siting the Academy at Wembley Park.

‘There’s also the position with the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), where Brent NUT wrote to the equality body to say we felt the council was not fulfilling its statutory obligation to carry out an equality impact assessment.

‘We feel this is disadvantaging the children in the south of Brent, who are mainly black, poor children.’

Alpha Kane, Brent NUT assistant secretary, said: ‘The reason I’m against Academies is simply because I believe in state education, where all children are treated equally and given opportunities to fulfill their potential.

‘I congratulate everybody who has taken part in this.

‘We are leading the way locally, Brent has always been in the forefront of struggle, and it’s shown to the whole NUT that we can take action if needs be.

‘To the TUC (which meets this week), what I will say is point out to Gordon Brown – who is for Academies like Tony Blair – that the fight will continue: a change of prime minister won’t stop people fighting for what they believe in.’

Martin Ryves, NUT member from Copland school, said: ‘I’m a visitor here, but I’m amazed to see how many tents are here and how many teachers are involved. It is a very well organised occupation and has already become a community.

‘I still don’t quite understand why, if they do have to build Academies, they have to build one here, with ours and other perfectly good schools around.

‘Even people who supported the government and this Academy junket would be wondering why they want to site an Academy here, when schools are really needed in the other half of the borough, and when they have this fantastic sports facility here that is very well organised and long-standing.

‘I totally support the Anti-Academies movement.’

Gareth Mitchell, co-NUT rep at Preston Manor School, said: ‘There is already a school 400 metres from here – Preston Manor high school – a very, very successful comprehensive.

‘I think it’s absolutely ridiculous. They’re selling education off – for £2 million you can control a school; after that, they get the same funding as any LEA school but they control the curriculum, hiring and firing of staff and admissions of students.

‘I think the trade unions and communities must fight this, absolutely.

‘And I’m concerned for the health and safety of the kids I teach as well.’

Tim Ventour, football coach, helping to supervise a football coaching school at the Wembley Park Sports Ground, said: ‘You’ve got kids coming here and their aspiration is to end up playing in the national stadium over there.

‘It’s so important. What does the government want?

‘The local authority, they’re losing the heritage which has been here for years.’

The director of football at the sports ground, Peter Moring, said: ‘If we had not won a year-long extension, we were told we would have had to leave this October.

‘There’s football here seven days a week and the function hall is used for weddings, parties, funerals, christenings and about 600 to 700 fans now use it as a facility when matches at Wembley take place, with matches between fans of the different teams.

‘And you’ve got a creche on site, a car wash, a motorcycle training school, a church, and we would all have to go to make way for an Academy.

‘Kids from all over Brent rely on this facility. If it closes, about 200 kids a week will have nowhere to go.’

He accused council leaders of not wanting to ‘set foot on the site, to come and look at the children.

‘They’ve just ignored us, and ARK,’ he claimed, referring to the private consortium that could run the proposed Academy.

‘Why are these people interested in running a school, if most schools keep saying they don’t make money?

‘Why do groups like ARK want to run schools? What’s their motive?

‘I object with this government continuing with the Conservative policy.’

According to Moring: ‘The council promised they wouldn’t build an Academy here and they wouldn’t put the council tax up – they’ve done both.’