This is a report from Ken
Three weeks ago we heard that three primary schools in Islington were proposing to form a chain of academies.
None of them had NUT reps and we had struggled to get in to them to meet with our members – Tom and I were turned away at the the school gates before Easter. “Consultation” had already begun before we found out what was going on and is due to end in three days time – with governors coming to a final decision in the second week of June. It all looked pretty hopeless but we decided to have a go, prioritising the school – New North – where we had the least contact with members.
We have leafleted the schools from outside (New North twice), held meeting with members in two of them and organised a meeting at the third later in this week. At the New North and William Tyndale meetings – which were well-attended – members all took AAA briefings and agreed to hold staff ballots on the academy conversion proposals.
Two weeks ago we set up a meeting between the Islington Council Leader, Catherine West, the Executive member for Education, Richard Watts, NUT officers (including Alasdair and me) and officers of the GMB and UNISON.
Where we agreed a plan of action to oppose the academies, starting with a public meeting close to New North, to be followed by ones at the other two schools. We have had two weeks of excellent coverage in both the local Islington papers. We have rattled the heads and governors of the schools – who have accused Alasdair and me of “intimidating” parents by giving them AAA briefings outside one school, abusing our access to e-mail addresses by sending governors at New North an article by Peter Downes and me of “harassing a member of staff”, presumably because I told the head’s PA (by e-mail) that we wanted to be consulted on the academy proposal itself and not just TUPE after the decision in principle had been taken.
Tonight we had the meeting at New North. It was brilliant. Speakers were meant to be me, Catherine West, an LA school governor who was opposed to the academy conversion and a GMB branch officer. In the event, the Chair of Governors who had accused me of harassment told the LA governor that he was “strongly advised” not to speak at the meeting so his place as chair was taken by a local (Labour) ward councillor, Gary Doolan – who had previously been refused entry to a consultation meeting at the school. About thirty people turned up, including a few teachers and a lot of Somali parents (whose kids make up a sizeable proposition of the school roll). Everyone spoke well, especially Catherine West who stressed out what parents would lose by the school becoming an academy – notably the free school dinners still financed by the Council. (The head and governors hadn’t anticipated that the Council would refuse to continue paying for this and now they are spitting blood, threatening to go to court!)
All of us made a lot of the fact that a private company, Strictly Education – which currently provides HR to the three schools and stands to gain enormously by expanding its involvement in the event of the school converting, is not only carrying out the consultation but also writing up the final report.
When we finished speaking one Somali mum started speaking very angrily in her mother tongue. Was she for the academy (the head had told Somali parents they would get extra money spent on their children) or was she against? Then someone translated.
“We are being bulldozed in to something none of us want. We don’t want or school run by private business. We don’t want it to break away from the local authority.” Other mums who could speak English supported her furiously. “At first they kept it quiet. Then they allowed only a couple of weeks to find out what its is all about after giving us one leaflet written only in English in small print so many parent can’t understand it. And now they are getting Strictly Education – which stands to make a lot of money if the school becomes an academy to carry out the consultation and report back on it.”
Several other parents asked, “What can we do?” Julie Hunt, who is a parent at another local school, told them how her child’s head and governors had rejected becoming an academy and that New North parents should find out who the parent governors are and demand they do the same. Inspired by these wonderful women, I told them that the head teacher, the pro-academy governors and Strictly were treating them as if they had no voice and no power. But they had proved tonight that they did have a voice and they did have power. Just as the people of Egypt and Tunisia had done they should demand the right to vote about decisions that affected them. They should draw up a petition, get as many parents as possible to sign and they should organise a demonstration outside the next governors meeting when they could hand it in.
All the parents supported the idea – and Catherine West invited them to the town hall to help them draw it up and produce it, which they are now going to do. This petition can now provide an organising focus for involving a wide number of parents, teachers and support staff. The would be school privatisers of Islington schools now have a real fight on their hands. Game on!