THE proposed site of a new City Academy, next to the new Wembley Stadium, is being occupied to stop the privatisation project from going ahead.
School students and teachers came to show their support for the action during their lunchbreak on Tuesday afternoon, as the local community vowed to continue the occupation until victory.
Brent recently saw its largest education meeting in years, when over 200 people swamped a public meeting called by Brent Campaign Against Academies, which is opposed to the Blairite academy project in principle and demands a return to state-run comprehensive schools.
Angry teachers, parents and residents accused the Liberal Democrats running Brent Council of reneging on an ‘election promise’ not to pursue academy plans.
If the new academy is allowed to go ahead, it will also mean the closure of a nursery on the site, campaigners have also warned.
Sujata Nehru, manager of the Sunflower Day Nursery, told News Line: ‘Our nursery is under threat because we are in the hall over there and it is on the grounds of the site of the planned academy.
‘Our nursery is a vital part of the community and we’ve been here for nearly nine years now and the children here are all adjusted to this setting.
‘It would be a real shame if they were forced to move to a new setting and a new environment.’
Local resident Jean Roberts, a member of the NUT and ATL teaching unions said: ‘This land belongs to Transport for London and the council is trying to buy it off them.
‘The proposal is to build an “all-through’’ academy (for children aged four to 18 years old) on the site.’
Hank Roberts, a member of the NUT national executive, said: ‘They say they’re not going to touch the sports field at all, they’re just going to build the school on the edges of the site and that the sports field will still be for the community’s use, which is nonsense.’
‘It would have to be a really high bloc,’ said Jean. ‘I think they’re being disingenuous.
‘Why do you think they want to build it here? We say it’s because it’s right next to Wembley. This is a project for power and prestige.’
She added: ‘The other thing is the sponsor. He is actually now living in Switzerland. He is a tax exile, Andrew Rosenfeld.’
Jeremy Taylor, Preston Manor NUT member, said: ‘Our school is still a comprehensive.
‘Comprehensive schools are absolutely vital because they give children an equal education and I think they’re value for money and, most importantly, they’re accountable to the local community.
‘I think city academies are wrong because they’re run by privateers.
‘They’re run by businessmen and they’re not accountable to anyone at all and what worries me is this just seems to be another privatisation scheme.
‘It’s like the NHS. They’re selling chunks of that off and now it’s the schools.
‘I’m worried about private individuals controlling the curriculum and I’m worried about the kind of ethos that these schools are going to create.
‘The unions must definitely defend comprehensive state education, absolutely.
‘The NUT fought for comprehensive schools in the 1960s and 1970s and I think it’s a disgrace that Labour, and the Liberal Democrats as well, have turned their backs on the comprehensive education system.
‘So the unions have got to fight, absolutely.’
Gill Reed, another NUT member, said: ‘Academies are not accountable to the taxpayer who pays for them and so there is no democratic accountability to the students or their parents.
‘We have this two-tier system of state and private education and academies exacerbate that.
‘The Capital City Academy cost the taxpayer £27 million.
‘I was a governor at Willesden High. I was told the cost of building a new school on the site would be £11 million and that the cost of repairing and upgrading the school would be a lot less.
‘I believe that’s what they should have done.
‘What has happened is that another comprehensive has been removed from the community.’
She added: ‘There is a real shortage of secondary school places in south Brent.
‘There are two thousand places in non-denominational schools in the south of the borough and 6,600 places in the north.
‘The result is that up to 3,500 students from south Brent have to travel out of the borough, in many cases very long distances.
‘I believe the decision to build another academy in the north of the borough is a fix.’
Sayed Jalili, a pupil at Copland Community College, said: ‘The person who will control the academy is a wealthy individual.
‘He will have control over the school, internally and externally, and the parents and the community will not benefit.
‘It’s more like a business than an education.’
Ricardo Singh, another Copland student, said: ‘I believe in state education and not privately-run academies.
‘Everyone should be equal and not treated differently, that’s how education should be run.
‘I think education should continue to be run by the government and local councils and I don’t see the purpose of changing it just for a businessman to make money out of it.’
‘Education shouldn’t be run like a business. That’s all I have to say,’ added Aisha Farooq, another Copland pupil.
Hank Roberts said: ‘What sort of role model is a tax exile to kids?’
‘The other argument is that he will get back the £1-2 million he puts in on the tax he saves, in a very short space of time.’
Hank Roberts continued: ‘He’s also one of the 12 “secret’’ Labour loaners.
‘He lent Blair a million to help Labour get elected but funnily enough, previously to that, he stood to be national treasurer of the Conservative Party.
‘What’s a Tory doing supporting Blair? The Labour Party has become so like the Conservatives that it’s easy to get confused. There’s no difference!’
Jean said: ‘Lord Adonis came up with the academy project with Tony Blair and they basically just asked particular wealthy men to be the sponsors.
‘This is linked with the “cash for peerages’’ affair.
‘Some of these academy sponsors actually got peerages, before it was exposed.
‘Academies mean that the running of the school is taken over by the sponsor and he appoints the governing body.
‘When they were first introduced it meant the school land and property were privately-owned.
‘There was such a hue and cry the government had to change the law.
‘They are classically built with no staff room and trade unions are not welcome: they can set their own staff terms and conditions and decide how the school is run.
‘The unions want TUPE conditions to remain, but after a period of time the privateers can change the staff conditions and come up with their own rules.’
She alleged: ‘They will make money out of it: Capital City Academy is next to a sports centre which has been renovated by the sponsor’s company.
‘Once the academy is set up they can bring in their own contractors for cleaning, catering and other services and charge it to the local authority, because everything is still paid for by the taxpayers.
‘It is privatisation: the sponsors put £2 million up front and the local authority pays everything after that.’
Dave Cooper, a primary school governor from Kingsbury, said: ‘This fat cat will get a lot of control over the school curriculum if the academy is set up.
‘This is the beginning of privatisation of state education.
‘The sheer size of the school – putting primary school kids with secondary school kids – is madness.
‘Public playing fields will be taken away.
‘This is one of the most clogged-up traffic junctions in the whole borough and they want to bring in about 1,700 kids and most of them will come by car.
‘North Brent has already got five fully comprehensive schools and south Brent has got two.
‘Now they’re saying there’s a shortage of places for south Brent kids, but they’re going to build an academy in north Brent.
‘There’s at least two businesses and a nursery running here which will be lost.
‘The Welfare State as far as I can see is disappearing fast and becoming privatised.
‘They’re talking about the PCT in Brent cutting school nurses and physiotherapy by almost 50 per cent.
‘I think it’s come to the point where there’s no other way except for the working class to take action.
‘Democracy has become a joke: in the council elections in May in Brent, the ruling party was thrown out largely over this issue of the academy.
‘The Liberal Democrats came to power promising they wouldn’t go ahead with it and then changed their minds and are refusing any public consultation over the location, which is the issue,’ he charged.
‘We had the entire perimeter of this site covered with banners and on Saturday when they were expecting a crowd of thousands at the new Wembley Stadium, they raided the site and took all the banners away.
‘So what is happening to freedom of speech?’
Hank Roberts said: ‘We’ve had support from parents, teachers, school governors, local residents, councillors, sports ground users and trade unionists, as well as the church group and nursery that use the site, which are all under threat.
‘The democratic process isn’t being allowed.
‘They have refused point blank to consult on whether this proposal should go ahead or not.
‘There is nothing left to meet this extremist response but reasonable action, and reasonable action includes direct action to occupy the site in resistance.
‘We’re determined to see this struggle through and win.’
He urged: ‘I call on all those who support and value state education to visit the site, sign the petition and even bring your tent and join us.
‘If that’s not possible, messages of support and financial donations will be gladly accepted and write to the local and national papers showing your support and opposition to Academies.