Academies and Lies
Guardian columnist Fiona Millar (@schooltruth) chaired a busy AAA fringe meeting at Labour’s 2013 Conference with guest speakers: Kenny Frederick (@kennygfrederick) recently retired headteacher; David Wolfe QC (@acanofworms); Henry Stewart (@happyhenry) of the Local Schools Network and Pat Glass (@PatGlassMP) MP for North West Durham.
Following an extract from the film Academies & Lies*, Kenny Frederick gave a passionate defence of local authorities and their schools; she was concerned that fragmentation of the schools system would lead to increasing segregation and less inclusion. She described the pressure that headteacher colleagues were under to convert to academy status, with the Secretary of State able to allocate schools to his favoured chains without respecting the wishes of local communities.
David Wolfe QC followed, saying that the school system had become unraveled; it was anarchic and almost every school had its own model of governance. He explained that this caused difficulties, not only for parents navigating the system, but also for government departments implementing education policy. David ended on an optimistic note saying that it could be relatively straightforward and economical to bring schools back under local democratic oversight, providing there was political will.
Henry Stewart then debunked some of the DfE’s academy myths. He showed how non-academies performed better than academies at GCSE whatever the level of school deprivation and showed that academies had relied more heavily on GCSE equivalents. Henry questioned whether the billions spent on the academy and free school programme could be justified when the London Challenge had shown that collaboration and cooperation were key to raising standards. His call for Labour to come out against for-profit schools had the audience cheering.
Pat Glass MP, well known for her laser-like challenges to Michael Gove in the Education Select Committee, began with a mea culpa: Labour had been the midwife of the academies project, but now there was growing concern around segregation, admissions and equalities. She believed that academy chains were reducing rather than increasing school autonomy, adding that there was insufficient accountability for these chains. Noting that Ed Miliband was very much in favour of the role of the local authority in education, she ended on a rallying cry that Labour must end the current obscenity of building free schools where there were surplus places.
During a lively question and answer session, Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead called for Labour to restore the right of every child to be taught by a qualified teacher.
The expert opinion expressed shows that our campaign must go on and that parents and teachers must unite to fight academisation, especially when forced on our schools.
*If you would like a DVD copy of Academies and Lies – a 50 minute documentary about forced academies – you can contact the filmmaker Rhonda Evans via the AAA office.