Handing over schools to business spivs?

Submitted by AWL on 20 March, 2008 - 8:39 Author: Liam Conway

Gordon Brown and Ed Balls will continue to accelerate the academies programme. The fake concern Balls expressed about some schools flouting admissions procedures acts as sand in our eyes as he and Brown increase selection through academies, trust and foundation status.

Local authorities currently face a terrible choice. If they include an academy in their bid for funding under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, it will be built with no charge to the authority but at a £35m cost to the taxpayer.

State schools will be given away at knock down prices to any two-bit entrepreneur who thinks they know how to run schools better than trained professionals or democratically elected local councils.

Take David Samworth for example; the man penciled in to take ownership of Sherwood Hall Upper School in Mansfield. A quick peek at Samworth’s CV and it soon becomes clear that this guy should stick to making sausages, pork pies and pasties.

The Samworth Church Academy is due to open in September but, so far, staff at the school have had very little consultation on how the new school will be built let alone operated.

Evidence from an academy run by Samworth and the church in Leicester suggests parents as well as staff might need to know more and soon. The school has a fully operational Anglican church on site, offering a complete range of religious services, including funeral services. Earlier this year a funeral was held during the school day, with the coffin passing through parts of the school building.

A supposed selling point for religious schools is the ridiculous idea that they perform better than others. There is no evidence - other than cooking admissions, which they have done with government connivance - to support this view.

Another supposed selling point is the notion that this form of Christianity is inclusive. But Sherwood Hall Upper School is already inclusive and is not trying to “promote Christian values” in the way that the Leicester academy does. The Bishop of Wakefield made it absolutely clear how inclusive such schools are when he said of a proposed chuch controlled academy in Halifax, “the school is there to offer an education to those who wish particularly for an education that is Christian.”

Schools should not promote Christian, Muslim, Hindu or any other religious values. They should teach Religious Education in a way that recognises the role of religion in people’s lives and the importance of belief, religious and non-religious. How can a school claim to be truly inclusive when it promotes a specific set of religious values?

Samworth himself is also closely associated with the Midlands Industrial Council, a secretive organisation whose president, Sir Anthony Bamford, was knighted by Thatcher in 1990. Given the cash for honours scandal surrounding New Labour it shouldn’t be long before Samworth becomes Lord Ginster. Sir Cyril Taylor, until recently head of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trusts believes people like Samworth sprinkle gold dust on schools. Taylor believes the likes of Lord Harris, the carpet magnate, who runs several academies, is a shining example of the positive benefits of business sponsors. Harris, says Taylor, “phones his stores to see what the sales figures are, he calls his schools to find out what the attendance figures are.” Truly inspirational!

Evidence from across the country shows that academies are not good employers, but the growth of academies, as well as the less publicised growth of foundation and trust schools is threatening to end any form of democratic accountability in our education system.

The NUT has produced some excellent materials on academies to help local campaigns of opposition, including the excellent booklet, “Academies – beyond the spin”. But much more of a national lead is needed if we are not to be overrun by these monstrosities. With some noteworthy exceptions, largely resulting from the excellent work of the Anti-Academies Alliance, parents, students and NUT activists, local campaigns against academies have not succeeded in stopping them.

The action on pay gives teachers a big opportunity to campaign against privatisation in a way that we have been unable to do until now! We need a national campaign, led by the national union, if we are to seriously dent New Labour’s love affair with academies and the marketisation of education.

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