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Tuesday's picket line - Huge Opposition to Academy Conversion

Otley Town Council held a public meeting last night to discuss the opposition to the academisation of Prince Henry’s School. Over 250 people were in attendance, including parents, students and staff from the school with an overwhelming majority against the school becoming an academy.

Andy Smith, Aireborough & Horsforth Socialist Party

The speakers discussed the various issues the school and community face from becoming an academy and included leader of the Town Council, leader of the Lib Dem opposition on the Town Council, Patrick Murphy from NUT, a rep from NAS/UWT and a former parent governor, who had resigned following the schools management forcing through academisation despite clear opposition from the staff, the parents and the students.

After the discussion from the speakers, it was clear that there was no financial benefit, despite Janet Sherrif and Mr Tranter (the headmistress and chair of the board of governors)’s claim that there was a financial benefit. This is of course, in contravention to the governments statement suggesting that no school should benefit from conversion to academy status. Despite this, there is actually no financial benefit and from the discussion, there is no educational benefit either.

There has been several days of strike action, taken by the staff of Prince Henry’s which resulted in a meeting on Friday 18th of November, with both NUT and NAS/UWT in attendance. The demands placed were to further the consultation period and to hold a public consultation where everyone would have a right to vote. This was rejected by school management, with only vague claims from Tranter and Sheriff of assurances of staff contracts remaining unaffected. This is a nonsense however, as they are in no position to offer that or guarantee it and actually, there is already one school in the area that does not recognise trade unions at all.

The Town Council have responded to the anti-academy sentiment growing in Otley and have asked repeatedly for the union demands to be met with little response from the school. This makes a welcome change from the attitude that myself and others were met with by Horsforth Town Council when we were campaigning against the academisation of Horsforth School.

There was however an anti-political sentiment coming from the parents. At first this seemed to be born of resentment of the main three parties and there was certainly an element of that, but actually it became clear that the people of Otley were proud of their campaign and wanted it to remain their campaign. One of the parents who most openly opposed a ‘political presence’ stopped for a chat with several activists to discuss tactics and experience. This sentiment was not as it first seemed, anti-activist, it was merely a strong desire to maintain defence against attacks from the school, suggesting that the campaign was political. This was however dismissed by several parents, who agree that to beat a politically motivated attack, a political programme is required.

There was a successful vote of no confidence in the Headmistress and remaining governing body separately, with only some abstentions and no ‘no’ votes. This shows the utter disdain, even from parents who admitted coming to the meeting from a neutral position. The number of people in attendance, the plans for further days of strike action and more direct action, including a demonstration in Otley on Saturday the 26th through Otley, all show the fighting spirit, this issue has raised in Otley.

The campaign overall has shown the strength of unity in a community, with new activists joining unionists and planning together to defend a community, it is inspirational, to see another generation forced to march and fight against this governments austerity and privatisations measures.

Come to the demonstration against an academy at Prince Henry’s Grammar School
Assemble 11am on Sat 26th November, outside Newell entrance of the school