Education Notes: ‘Our schools are not for sale’ campaign fights back

The local elections in England on 1 May resulted in the first victories for anti-academy campaigners voted onto local councils. Academy schools, we remind our readers, are state-funded private schools.* These hybrid monstrosities were dreamed up from the office of Prime Minister Blair but are the direct result of Gordon Brown’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Academies are being created by taking state schools out of the control of local education authorities and giving them, together with public land, building contracts and employer rights to private companies like Harris Carpets and organisations like the Church of England.

In Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, nine councillors, eight independent and one Liberal Democrat, were elected on an anti-academy platform and now hold the balance of power on the 36-seat district council. The Barrow councillors are opposed to Cumbria Council’s plans to close three of the town’s secondaries and open a new academy in September 2009, sponsored by BAE Systems, two local businessmen, the local sixth form college, FE college and university.

Cumbria County Council is following the Labour Party line that ‘standards’ will be raised through the inspiration and efficiency of the private business sector. Presumably Cumbria regards the armament manufacturer and international sales company BAE (that is currently dodging charges of corruption and bribery about a multi-million pound arms deal with Saudi Arabia) as a shining example of free enterprise and fit for purpose to sponsor a secondary school. Local people, however, have shown that they oppose both handing their schools over to private interests and the closure of three local schools to create one super school as a private finance showcase.

In Calderdale, West Yorkshire, a BNP councillor was elected after campaigning against plans to open a Church-sponsored academy in Halifax. Calderdale NUT secretary Sue McMahon said, ‘If the main parties had done more to reflect local people’s opinions in opposing this academy, then the BNP might not have got in’.

Deaf to the protests of local people the Labour government remains dazzled by the private sector and hostile to local government. Times are changing however. At this years NAHT (National Association of Head Teachers) conference, the government was warned that schools are now more wary about the benefits of private business links. It was said that no school would trust the British Airports Authority (BAA) and the companies that run Heathrow’s Terminal Five to be in charge of cloakrooms and bags, nor Northern Rock to do the school dinner accounts.
Susan Davidson

*See FRFI pamphlet Education Notes, available from BCM Box 5909, London WC1N 3XX, price £1+50p p&p.

FRFI 203 June / July 2008