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Opposing 'Dickensian' academy schools in Waltham Forest
Almost 40 people attended the Waltham Forest Socialist Party public meeting to discuss stopping schools in the London borough from becoming academies run by unelected and unaccountable businesses and consortiums.
Jeff Allen, Walthamstow Socialist Party
The meeting's first speaker, Waltham Forest Unison activist Nancy Taaffe, said that the Con-Dem government was trying to make people accustomed to the idea that the state is not there to support welfare and provide public services. This includes replacing comprehensive education with Dickensian schools that are run by 'philanthropic' businessmen, churches and charity groups.
Nancy, however, emphasised that attacks on public services can be beaten and gave recent examples of 'David versus Goliath' victories through local trade union and community campaigns that have stopped cuts and closures. Nancy said that another victory could be achieved by getting as many people as possible in Waltham Forest involved in opposing academies.
Waltham Forest college lecturer and UCU union branch secretary Susan Wills spoke of the cuts being made to pay for the college's £1.7 million 'deficit', including 35 redundancies. Susan rejected the idea of 'progressive' cuts and said that cost-cutting casualisation of college teaching would lead to poorer quality education.
A lunchtime demonstration is planned at the college on 21 June as part of a united day of action over education. A UCU strike ballot will take place if college management push for compulsory redundancies.
On academies, Susan said that it was frightening that education could be left in the hands of "profiteers, racketeers and well-meaning individuals" on the say-so of a school's governing body.
The meeting's chair, NUT member Linda Taaffe, said that 14 schools in Waltham Forest have been 'invited' to fast track to academy status and therefore 'opt out' of local education authority (LEA) control before the start of the new school year in September.
The third speaker, NUT executive member Martin Powell-Davies, said that the government was, as reported in a quote from Whitehall officials, aiming to get local authorities "out of the picture" in education as with other services that working class people rely on, including health care and housing, while attacking working conditions and trade union organisation. Academies can set their own rates of pay, terms and conditions.
Martin said that "every school could go" out of LEA control. Some of the schools, rated as 'outstanding' by Ofsted, that have already been offered academy status by Tory minister Michael Gove, may not have trade unionised workforces. It is important for socialists, parents and teachers to get the message out about the danger of academies as soon as possible, Martin said.
The 15 contributions from the floor included a teacher saying how school boards may choose to 'opt out' in order to avoid dreaded Ofsted inspections, and that academy schools could try to remove staff pension rights. It was said that all schools would be affected as academies' 10% funding increase would be taken out of a borough's LEA budget.
Many ideas were raised about how anti-academies campaigns could be built quickly in Waltham Forest, as well as nationally, through trade unions, parents' action groups, mass leafleting, protests and strike action. At some schools, teachers have already voted for strike action against transferring to academy status.
All speakers at the meeting spoke in a personal capacity.
In The Socialist 16 June 2010:
National Shop Stewards Network
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis