Over 300, overwhelmingly parents and students, marched today against the proposed conversion of Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley to academy status on 1st December this year. That this comes on top of 6 days of strike action by teachers, with around 60-100 on picket lines each day, and a public meeting of well over 250 people should leave anyone convinced that the populace of Otley is overwhelmingly opposed to this proposal.
Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party
Fighting speeches were given from Pat Murphy of the NUT and Steve Thompson of NASUWT, thanking parents for the support for their recent strike action, offering what support they can for parents and students attempts to continue this battle. A student at the school also explained their anger at being told that the issues around becoming an academy were too complicated for them to understand.
The other speakers were members of the Town Council and a local councillor who was also one of the governors at the school who resigned over this. In their speeches of opposition to the school becoming an academy, it was reflected several times that this campaign was not political, in the sense that there aren’t any party political differences over this issue. Which is true to an extent, both in relation to the unamity of opposition to the school becoming an academy on the Town Council, but also in that the Con-Dem coalition is carrying on with Labour’s idea of changing schools into academies, albeit in a slightly modified form.
But this campaign is political, in that it raises deep issues of a lack of accountability of the school to parents and the local community, but also in terms of the need to discuss amongst people a strategy to win this fight. In contributing to this, Socialist Party members have been at the picket line every day, apart from the first strike day, discussing the way forward for the campaign with teachers, parents and students and bringing to bear our experience of campaigning against the conversion of Horsforth School to an academy. In particular, the organisation of a demonstration in Horsforth earlier this year which gave some of the impetus for the calls for today’s demonstration.
The role of Otley Town Council has been a refreshing change to the attitude that prevailed in Horsforth. It has called for support for striking teachers at the school and opposed conversion to academy status all together, unlike local Lib-Dem MP Greg Mulholland who has merely limited his interventions in parliament to the process of conversion to academy status.
However, it is unfortunate that these developments within the local community have come at such a late stage, where in the case of this demonstration, there are no more days of teachers strike action that the local community could have linked up in support of. The reason for this is the lack of a community based organisation that could have thrashed out a strategy to fight the academy conversion plans, rather than playing catch up on the back of the support for teachers strike action against these plans.
Yet the fact that there are the beginnings of organisation amongst parents and students is a step forwards. They plan on continuing to protest outside the school on Monday and Tuesday mornings from 7.45am, with a delegation going to lobby headteacher Janet Sheriff on the Tuesday. Even if the conversion to academy status goes ahead, this cannot be the end of the fight, indeed it is on that assumption that Sheriff has banked upon.
Some parents have begun to discuss challenging for positions on the new governing body of the school. Such a campaign should be linked to a campaign to return Prince Henry’s to community control, with public activities to build a force determined to make sure Sheriff, or a future headteacher, cannot ignore the wishes of parents, students, teachers and the local community in this way again.
The following leaflet was distributed by Socialist Party members on today’s demonstration.