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Socialist Party member, Mike Forster addresses the meeting

Around 20 people attended a Headingley Against Cuts public meeting on Monday 13th June, to discuss threat posed to education by the governments academies agenda, in particular at nearby Lawnswood school, where rumours are circulating to this effect.

Iain Dalton, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party

The first speaker, was Mike Forster, Kirklees UNISON chief education steward and Socialist Party member, who has been involved alongside other trade unionists in trying to fight plans to set up academies across that authority. Mike outlines who they have had both successes and losses in the campaign, losing two battles against academies but winning three.

The most serious of these was in Fartown where the contract to run the school and set up an academy was put out to tender, with one community bid and three private bids to run an academy from E-Act, Lilac Skies and the Church of England. A public meeting to discuss the bids attracted 300 parents, which the trade unions used to make contact with concerned parents who set up an action group to fight the proposals.

They then proceeded to lobby the local Labour-run council who were overseeing the bid, threatening them that if they wanted to keep their seats they ought to listen to views of parents, and if there was an academy in Fartown then they would be considering standing a candidate in the local elections. The councils consultation had 338 returns with around 97% of them opposed to the establishment of an academy, leading the council to back the community bid.

Whilst Mike also reported on a similar victory in Batley where E-Act were attempting to set up an academy. In two other areas, academy providers have been more succesful, one area where staff had been bullied into accepting academy proposals by senior management and another where UNISON were able to organise a ballot of the staff which showed such overwhelming opposition to the establishment of an academy that they had to delay the proposals.

Mike also referred to action elsewhere, including Coventry where trade unions have been co-ordinating strike action between two schools threatened with strike action, which has alos seen student strikes in solidarity (see latest report on Coventry Socialists website – http://www.coventrysocialists.co.uk/latestnews_63269.html). Mike has been meeting with representatives from NUT, ATL and NSAUWT to ‘survey the battlefield’ each week and plan the next steps in the campaigns.

The nest speaker was Lawnswood School NUT rep, Victoria, who explained how although Lawnswood School is not explicitly threatened with becoming an academy, because the school is currently in special measures it is quite likely that the government may force them to become an academy. In particular the appointment of a new headteacher for the school, Simon White, who is currently part of the National Headteachers Steering Group to persuade schools to become an academy. There had also been discussions amongst governers at the school about becoming an academy, which the NUT reps managed to quash very quickly by explaining their opposition to the prospect. There is also the added complication to the establishment of an academy at Lawnswood that the school was built with a PFI contract that would need to be re-negotiated.

The final speaker was Amy, a student at Lawnswood, who gave a brief history of academies before explaining how there has been an explosion of applications to become an academy since the general election, with over 1200 applications, on top of 704 that already exist. She also spelt out all the problems with academies, including their selective entrance policies that can exclude those from a poorer background, that they can choose their own curiculum (for example teaching right-wing christian ideals such as creationism), that they don’t need to employ properly qualified teaching staff amongst others.

There was a very open discussion about how we could campaign against the establishment of an academy at Lawnswood or any other nearby school. Two governors of a nearby school also explained how they are also being potentially threatened with becoming an academy and link up with any campaigns.

Whilst Lawnswood’s status is in the air we will carry on campaigning, in particular explaining to parents the danger that ‘academisation’ poses to education, in the run-up to building for a public meeting, either in the new term in September or when any consultation starts about the school seeking academy status.