Sunday 4 September 2016

Tribute to Ken Purchase MP

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The Anti Academies Alliance is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ken Purchase. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-37213144 

Our condolences go to his wife Brenda and the rest of his family. Our movement has lost a principled and courageous fighter for justice and equality.

We first met Ken Purchase MP in 2006. He offered to help the emerging anti-academies campaign after becoming increasingly concerned at the ‘direction of travel’ the Blair government was taking in education. In particular, he felt that Andrew Adonis (now Lord Adonis) and Blair had not been honest about their plan. Conversion to academy status had initially been sold to the PLP on the basis of just few schools, but this became 200 and later 400 as the programme expanded because it was claimed to be so successful.

When we first met Ken he listened carefully and asked incisive questions. We suggested the government was not being honest and that there was not ‘level playing field’ when comparing academies and community schools. Ken thought it was worth investigating their claims of success. So with his, and his wife Brenda’s help, the Anti Academies Alliance set up a Committee of Enquiry in parliament in 2007. It was hugely successful with evidence from experts, trade unions, parents and teachers all contributing to a final report that exposed the claims for success being peddled by the government. Ken was unstinting in his support for the AAA. He became our patron and would speak regularly at AAA events, even after he retired from Parliament. His optimism, energy and commitment were an inspiration. This was particularly true during the Blair years when only a handful of Labour MPs would put their head above the parapet and criticise their own government.

Ken would regularly use EDMs – Early Day Motions – to help test the mood in Parliament on the question of academies. Most of the time it felt like we could only be certain that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would sign! So Ken would get on the phone to other MPs to try boost the numbers. It was a labour of Sisyphus. But it never weakened his resolve.

Ken had a wonderful charm and self-confidence. He knew he was right on academies and always tried to explain the key issues patiently and factually. He regularly called our office before he spoke at a meeting just ensure he had the latest facts and arguments which he would put these calmly and patiently to colleagues, although privatively he was angered that true Labour values in education had been betrayed.

Ken was a central figure in building the alliance. Indeed without him it would have been difficult to gain the widespread credibility that AAA achieved. Ken used to joke that ‘we had won the argument but lost the war’. The AAA was not able to stem the tide of academy conversion – primarily because there were no democratic means to do so. But wherever our arguments were put against the supporters of the academy programme we destroyed them. Had every school facing conversion had a vote of parents and teachers, and perhaps students, there would be only a handful of academies today.

Ken helped keep alive the idea of a comprehensive, progressive and democratic education for all students. The AAA will be continuing the fight for these ideas. Working in old and new alliances, such Parents Defending Education and Let our Kids Be Kids, we hope to go on and defeat the Tories’ neo-liberal marketisation of education. We also hope that Jeremy Corbyn’s idea of National Education Service can begin to put new ideas into action and help re- create an education system that would make Ken proud again.

Alasdair Smith

National Secretary of AAA

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