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"What do Airtours know about running a school?"
Teachers fight academy plans in Bolton
TEACHERS AT Withins school in Bolton took a second day of strike action on 18 June, over issues arising from their employers' plan to turn it into an 'academy' school.
Academy schools are largely controlled by so-called 'sponsors'. The government pays £20 million plus for the 'new' school. The sponsors can chip in £2 million if they want, but the government changed the rules so sponsors don't have to pay a penny!
Schools like Withins are literally handed over to the private sector with a £20 million property for their new owners who can control what is taught, how the school is run, and how staff and pupils are treated.
Withins' intended sponsors are the Church of England - not short of C of E schools already - and Anne and David Crossland formerly of travel firm Airtours! As one picket said: "What do Airtours know about running a school?"
Part of the government agenda when introducing academy schools was to weaken the unions' ability to negotiate terms and conditions for teaching and non-teaching staff. At Withins, neither the sponsors-to-be nor the local authority show any willingness to talk to staff about how their contracts will be affected "and so", said one picket, "we're striking in protest!"
Phil Roberts, NUT rep, explained: "We're currently employed by the local authority, and protesting against the decision to transfer our employment to another employer. We've based this on a strike in Westminster by Unison members who took action when threatened with privatisation, and this action was ruled legal by a court judgement. So the strike is about terms and conditions."
Students, parents and people from other unions joined striking teachers at the picket line. "Unison members are desperate to join us," continues Phil, "they're balloting this week. We're worried about what's happening to our colleagues in Hayward, where the school was closed without consultation. The first anyone knew about it was a sign on a lamp-post on the corner!
"That behaviour has unified staff, with Hayward balloting this week. We think maybe these academy sponsors are after not just knighthoods but sainthood. The Crosslands' other academy is in Middleton, which they renamed St Anne's!"
One picket explained the lunacy of the academy agenda: "At the moment the school faces towards the estate where most of our pupils come from. They love coming here, it's a stable place for them where they know the teachers.
"But if it becomes an academy, they're going to change which way the school faces so it's another catchment area! It means most of the pupils we have now simply won't be able to come. None of us want this, not the teachers, not the staff, not the pupils and not the pupils' parents." The day before the teachers' action, school students walked out in protest against the plans.
Support this strike which demands terms and conditions are guaranteed if staff are transferred. Oppose the academy agenda - if the government has £20 million bungs going for free, why can't it be spent to refurbish our schools as staff, parents and pupils see fit - without bringing in iffy private companies and religious organisations?
For more info, petitions etc. go to the campaign website: http://savewithins.exofire.net
In The Socialist 25 June 2008:
Socialist Party editorial
Unison Conference 2008
Socialist Party campaigns
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Origins of the Labour Party
Socialist Party workplace news