About 50 people attended a public meeting on Thursday 10th May at Northfield Baptist Church to discuss the threat to local primary schools being forced into academy status. The meeting had been organised by the teaching union NUT and the parent group Ask Parents First which is campaigning for open and democratic consultation on academy conversion. The meeting was aimed at three local schools, Northfield Manor, Primrose Hill and West Heath Primary, all of which, along with around 30 other schools across the city, are being forced to accept academy status by the DfE. Parents from all three schools were represented at the meeting.
The meeting was chaired by President of Birmingham NUT, Gay Hatton, who spoke about the threat to state education from the academies programme. Parents and community heard from four speakers.
Academies do no better than other schools
Richard Hatcher, Professor of Education at Birmingham City University and joint chair of Alliance Against Birmingham Academies, explained how the most recent data shows that academies do no better than other schools. He pointed out that all 3 schools are improving and that one of the schools is above the DfE’s floor target of 60%. Forcing academy status on these schools will disrupt that progress. Richard explained how becoming an academy means a school will no longer belong to, or be accountable to the local community.
Decisions are being made behind closed doors
Sarah Barton from the Ask Parents First campaign said that it is wrong that decisions are being made behind closed doors with parents not being informed or consulted. She urged parents to demand open and democratic consultation for all schools facing academy conversion.
School communities can fight this with unity and courage
Jeremy Paige NUT representative for Bournville School, which recently turned down academy status after a hard fought campaign by parents and staff, talked of the need for unity and courage and stressed the importance of parents and school staff working together to give each other the courage to stand up and fight for their school.
Headteachers are afraid to speak out
NUT Midlands Regional Secretary Kit Armstrong explained how staff and headteachers were afraid to speak out, not just for themselves, but for fear of what may happen to their schools. She stressed the need for a wider coordinated campaign.
The meeting was then opened to questions from the floor.
Labour Councillor Brett O’Reilly condemned forced academies and called for open and democratic consultation
Newly elected Labour councillor for Northfield Brett O’Reilly spoke to condemn the policy of forcing schools to become academies and supported calls for an open, democratic process. He pledged to write to all heads and governors at schools in the Northfield ward requesting that they respect this, and he said he would ask other Labour councillors to do the same.
Parents knew nothing about academy plans until this meeting
There followed general questions and discussion. Parents were appalled to discover that academy status had been on the cards at some of their schools for as long as 6 months, and yet they had known nothing about it until this meeting. Parents from one school reported that as a result of this meeting being announced, the Headteacher was arranging an open meeting for parents. Groups of parents from Northfield Manor, West Heath and Primrose Hill Primary Schools then got together to plan how they could begin their own parent campaigns.
Petitions to Birmingham City Council and Michael Gove were signed by parents
Parents signed two petitions. The first calling on Birmingham City Council to support schools staying within the local family of schools and to help them fight plans to hand them over to private sponsors and away from the communities they serve. The second called for the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove to meet with the parents of Birmingham to discuss his plans to make our community schools into academies and to listen to our concerns. You can sign both petitions online here
Teachers at 15 Birmingham primaries are currently balloting against being forced to become academies.