Opinion Former Article

NUT on Academies

Speaking at TUC Congress in Manchester on the subject of academies, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers the largest teachers' union, said:

"Congress this composite is about the future of education, about saving our schools, about a good local school for every child and for every community. It spells out our opposition to the fragmentation and privatisation of our education service and our support for a state-funded and democratically accountable education service. This Coalition rushed through the legislation to create new academies and free schools with indecent haste. Not since the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 has legislation other than that intended to counter terrorism or deal with economic crisis been rushed through all parliamentary stages in quite this fashion.

"And yet, despite the Secretary of State's claim in the early summer that 1,100 schools had applied, only 32 Academies opened this term. Hardly a flood, more, as Brendan said, 'a feeble dribble'.

"Perhaps this is not such a surprise really because we know from an IPSOS Mori poll published in April and commissioned by NASUWT & UNISON that a majority of the public want state funded schools kept public and run in a publicly accountable way by Local Authorities. Schools run by Local Authorities are preferred to other so called providers, such as charities, parent groups or, of course, private companies. Just 4% of the public favoured state-funded schools being run by the private sector. That means that 96% are opposed to such privatisation of schools. I call that a very clear and a very healthy majority.

"The education unions' ongoing campaign against academies and free schools can genuinely claim to have had some successes. But there is still much to do. We oppose academies and free schools - or what we might properly call 'free market schools' - because they represent privatisation. In the case of academies, assets which should be community assets are being handed over to unaccountable institutions.

"We oppose academies and free schools because they represent a direct threat to coherent national pay and conditions. We also oppose them though because international evidence shows that they quite simply don't come up with the goods for many children.

"Evidence from Denmark shows that: 'less differentiated, more comprehensive systems are more efficient in adjusting for students' socio-economic background and thus in providing more equal learning opportunities for students.' In America, Charter Schools don't produce better outcomes for children and young people either. Research has found that results in 83% of Charter Schools are no better than or 'significantly worse' than 'their equivalent local public schools.'

"In Sweden, Bertil Ostburg, education minister, has warned the British Government not to introduce privatised schools. He said: 'We have actually seen a fall in the quality of Swedish schools since the Free Schools were introduced. The Free Schools are generally attended by children of the better educated and more wealthy families, making things even more difficult for children attending ordinary schools in poor areas.'

"And we know from previous research that the existence of Free Schools in Sweden has exacerbated segregation on the basis of social class and ethnicity. That colleagues is a 2-tier system. We know we're not all in the same boat but we aren't in the same schools either. Privatising and fragmenting our schools will reinforce division in our society. All this talk of being on the same boat reminds me of that famous boat, the Titanic. There were, of course, very different outcomes for those in first class and those in steerage.

"We have already heard about BSF cuts from this rostrum. However, government money, our money, has been used to fund the New Schools Network, a 'charity' set up to assist those wishing to establish Free Schools. Is this a good use of public funds? I don't think so.

"Taxpayer funded education, state education, should be about enriching the lives of young people, not lining the pockets of the owners or shareholders of private companies.

"Congress, education is a right not a privilege. We need to work together: trade unions, parent groups, the National Governors' Association, the Anti-academies alliance and school students themselves and say 'No' to this ideological attack on free state comprehensive education. We need to work together to keep the education service, of which all of us are so proud, out of the hands of the privateers and profiteers.

"Save our Schools."
For further details contact Caroline Cowie on 0207 380 4706 or 07879480061

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