Last year Education Minister Michael Gove rushed through legislation which allows him to force schools to become academies against their wishes.
Now hundreds of primary schools which are not achieving Gove’s “floor targets” in Year 6 SATs are under threat of being taken out of the democratic control of local authorities, and put into the hands of private sponsors regardless of the opinions of staff, parents and governors.
Schools are being told: capitulate and hand over their school to the private sector, or democratically elected governing bodies will be disbanded and heads told to clear their desks.
This is exactly what has happened in two schools in Haringey which refused to give in to harassment; another two have agreed to become academies in the face of intense pressure and victimisation from the DfE.
Downhills Primary School is an improving school that delivers an inspiring curriculum to a diverse community of children. The school has in fact met Gove’s floor targets and argued that having been told to improve by their last Ofsted inspection, it was only fair that Gove wait until the report from their next Ofsted inspection before making a decision.
Sure enough, within the week Ofsted came a-knocking and put the school in special measures.
This set in motion the transition to academy.
The highly respected and well liked head teacher resigned and the governors were removed.
Nightingale Primary School has met a similar fate; the governing body was disbanded and replaced by an Interim Executive Board.
However these schools and the communities they serve did not simply roll over.
A bold campaign was quickly established by parents of the schools in alliance with teachers, students and community members, including local MP and former student of Downhills School David Lammy.
In January over 1000 people marched through Haringey demanding the right to make a choice over their future. The new school song, written especially for the campaign and recorded with accompaniment of students on guitars (all pupils at Downhills get a year’s free music tuition on the guitar, violin or cello) appeals to common sense.
Save our school! Save our school!
This is an S.O.S. to common sense,
Get us out of this mess,
And help us save our school!
The new policy will mean more schools will teach to the SATs test rather than provide children with a well-rounded creative curriculum that fosters a love of learning.
In Haringey the academy programme has put four local schools up in competition with each other rather than be able to continue long-term collaboration.
These schools will not longer benefit from the experience and expertise of a local authority, which enables them to share resources and skills; they will be forced to buy in services from the open market the cheaper the better.
They will be competing for pupils, pupils that preferably will not need a great range of specialist services if the school is to be even more cost effective.
Two representatives of the Harris Federation, the government’s preferred academy sponsor, have been appointed to the governing body of Downhills School.
Coincidentally, Lord Harris, Carpetright mogul, got presented with an award from his close friend David Cameron only hours later.
Surely it defies common sense is to remove local people with such faith and investment in a place that they are willing to fight tirelessly to save it, from its running and replace them with anonymous private interests.
No amount of panicked hot-housing or booster classes to raise SATs results will save schools from this attack on our state education system. The government will simply move the goal posts in order to continue setting schools up to fail.
There is no other option but to stand firm, proceed with integrity and conviction both inside and outside the classroom, gather strength as a community of workers, parents and students and use our power to put every barrier in their way.
We should also pose an alternative model of education based on the founding values of the comprehensive education system.