The Green Party has been campaigning strongly for bringing academies back into democratic control and to stop the over testing of our children for many years now. Today I was privileged to attend in London the first of many public meetings to bring all parents together in this fight – and to end the privatisation of our schools.
Be under no illusion that the Conservative government are trying to rail road through sweeping changes to the education of our children in this country. Yet parents are mobilising, and they are organising in force.
And they are angry.
Last month, the day before George Osborne’s ‘robbing from the poor to give to the rich’ budget, the government leaked details of their new Education White Paper. All schools in England were set to be ordered out of democratic control and to be forced to become academies by 2020. Understandably, this has met with a high level of outrage and anger and concern – from teachers, unions, governors and local authorities. But it is parents who are the largest group to be hit by these changes after the children. Yes, teachers can strike and boycott, governors can have meetings and councillors can write letters – but parents have strength in numbers. Parents are voters and citizens. Parents can kick up fuss. All we are waiting for is a campaigning group to bring all the individual anti testing, anti-cuts and anti-academies groups together across the country. And today we gained one.
Enter Parents Defending Education. At today’s inaugural meeting we heard passionate testimony from parents about how becoming an academy has wrecked the trust between family and school. But we also heard from Mary Bousted of ATL and Kevin Courtney of the NUT – who have been campaigning against forced academisation and over testing and cuts to education for many years now.
Michael Rosen, Professor of Children’s Literature and a very loud and critical voice when it comes to government education policy, began the meeting by voicing all of his concerns with great clarity and humour. He is concerned about the vulnerable children, who academies are already failing, as unlike the local authorities they have ‘no legal requirement’ to meet all needs. He was most animated when discussing the KS2 grammar tests and ‘made up’ linguistic concepts such as ‘fronted adverbial’ which are complete nonsense. Finally he pointed out that as academies do not have to follow the National Curriculum, the crazy regime of testing will be the only future measurement to test schools and teachers – and will become even more central to control over the content in our classrooms. The influence of this white paper will be felt for many years to come.
Mary Bousted from teaching union ATL detailed how it has been a terrible week for the Department of Education (DfE). Their accounts have detailed multi-million pounds overspend, due to the increase in the number of academies and the difficulty with monitoring this. Then there was the flag ship grammar test for 7 yr olds – which turned out was not a fair test as the specific paper had been used by schools as an online specimen for weeks – and has been scrapped. A humiliating withdrawal. And then she relayed a conversation she has had with the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, where Ms Bousted (pHD in English) had informed the minister that primary schools should not be about rigid grammar and linguistic rules, but narrative and poetry and modelling. “You’re wrong” said Mr Gibb. But I have studied this for many years, replied Mary. The minister replied “I don’t believe you.”
Philippa Harvey from the NUT read out a statement from the ‘Let Kids be Kids’ pressure group, who are co-ordinating the national kids strike on May 3rd where they will refuse to go to school to sit the KS2 tests. “We must end the SATS exams and testing now – parents do have a voice”. Fiona Forest, a single parent from Lewisham and representing the group ‘Rescue Our Schools’ got the longest applause of the afternoon after narrating her family’s experience of their school becoming an academy. No morning break time, no pastoral tutor groups, and pupil academic rankings posted on the walls resulting in bullying were just a handful examples of the demoralising culture at their school. “Where’s the partnership?” she asked. “There’s no communication and no trust.”
The effect on SEN and vulnerable and excluded children was the focus of south London parent Lucy Cox. She gave us the statistics that in 2013, 5,000 pupils were excluded from secondary schools in England – half from state schools and half from academies. But at 17,000 the number of state accountable schools is almost six times the number of academies (3,000) – exclusion levels in academies is vastly disproportionate to the number of schools. And these are vulnerable young people who should not remain hidden – they are entitled to an education and their removal from the classroom is very much a safeguarding issue.
Kevin Courtney of the teaching union the NUT summed up the situation – that teachers need an alliance with parents to fight the triple threats of forced academisation, over testing and cuts to education funding. A strong parents association will in turn support and boost the morale of our teachers. And therefore the meeting concluded by formally adopting the launch statement along these lines – and the Parents Defending Education campaign has officially begun.
Existing grassroots parents groups are urged to contact this national campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org to collate a register of the great level of activity up and down the country. But new parent groups are also needed. If you as a parent, governor or councillor are concerned about the road taken by our conservative government and education department – please contact Parents Defending Education and set up a local group today.
More detail can be found on twitter @PaDefendingEd, facebook and the wordpress blog https://www.parentsdefendingeducation.wordpress.com
Green Party National spokesperson for Education