Education campaigners in Leeds met at the Leeds Metropole Hotel this Friday [15/10/10] to hear Alasdair Smith and Liz Chillington, from the Anti Academies Alliance and Stand Up For City campaigns respectively, present the situation regarding the academy movement, and to hear how one school, City of Leeds School, fought the fight and won.
Liz Chillington went through the various activities that the Stand Up 4 City campaign had done, and how they’d kept up the momentum. She talked of how they had turned the campaign against closure into a campaign to promote the school’s strengths and successes. In particular she talked about the school’s re-engagement with the local community, and with the neighbouring primary schools.
Alasdair Smith presented a somewhat dark picture of the present government intentions, through its present education minister, Michael Gove, to bring back, in effect, the old grammar school system.
Questioners from the floor came from schools were already academies [eg South Leeds], schools who were just about to become one [[eg Parklands], the school who was probably next [Morley], the school who had fought them all off [City of Leeds], and other schools presently unaffected directly [Prince Henry’s, Lawnswood and Cockburn]. And there were representatives from all the teaching and clerical unions. Also present was parent, Adele Beeson, who, at the invitation of Leeds Schools Together [Leeds branch of AAA] had stood for council and thus successfully got every other candidate to back City of Leeds’ School’s fight to stay open.
Despite pessimism about Gove’s intentions Alasdair Smith thought there was little political will to dismantle the public education outside the conservative party. However, the question was how much damage Michael could do in the time that he had. And with £500, 000 of taxpayers money going to the New Schools Network, that would seem to be quite a bit.
Questions asked were about the vulnerability of the governing bodies, whether new academy head teachers would uphold pay and conditions for their staff. Alasdair Smith told the meeting that previous academies created from “failing” schools had, on the whole respected the previous pay and conditions, but that were instances of putting them to one side immediately after TUPE. One speaker from the floor, Celia Foote, brought up the use of “parateachers” at Leeds’ David Young Academy, and in general the use of untrained teachers, which she saw as a worrying trend.
The general feeling of the meeting was that despite the government’s fragile hold on power, introducing academies and free schools was “an aggressive expansionist process” and the conclusion was that school staff worried about their future should pre-empt the possibility of academisation by telling their own governors in advance of their opposition to such a plan.