Teachers, parents, governors, trade union, Labour and community activists turned out to the first Hands off Our Schools – No to Forced Academies meeting in Leeds on Thursday 28 April. 100 people attended.
Organised by the Leeds National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch, it was a positive first step in building a campaign to defeat the Government’s White Paper on Education. This is the government’s attempt to force through wholesale privatisation of education. Patrick Murphy, Leeds NUT, spoke about some key elements to fight against — lack of democracy, the lack of evidence for any benefit to children of academisation — and the widespread public opposition, unrest from Tory MPs and the Tory controlled County Councils.
He said government should be focusing on teacher shortages, teacher turnover, the gap in funding for schools, the lack of school places, and the scourge of testing on both children and teachers.
Finally Patrick made the case for industrial action and why it was a vital part of the fightback against the academisation process. Patrick emphasised that whilst many academies do sign up to national agreements on teachers’ pay etc., in the so-called “Burgundy Book”, they will scrap such agreements if strikes are defeated.
Parent governor Brendon Nicholls said that the kind of people the academies want on their boards are not the people he looks up to, many of whom, like the junior doctors are being attacked by the same government that is pushing the legislation through. Leeds headteacher Jane Astrid Devane highlighted argued that while many of the services provided to schools by the local authority were imperfect they helped to create a school environment that works with SEN children or behavioural issues. Once the market is introduced those services will not be there. Councillor Judith Blake said that Leeds City Council is committed to fighting the proposals. Many Leeds schools had already written to them asking for the Authority to setup its own academy chain. She said they have told schools this is premature and that it may be possible to defeat the proposals outright. Unlike Murphy and others, Blake did believe that the right for Local Authorities to set up chains was a concession. The council would go ahead with this if they believed it would stop wholesale forced academisation going ahead.
Teachers from one school confirmed that there are already talks going ahead to start turning their school into an academy. Proposals to hold local meetings, leaflet school gates and set up local campaigns were agreed.