It was a day that most members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at Edward Wilson primary school never expected to see—the day they voted against strike action.
In every dispute for many years, NUT members at the London school have voted unanimously for stoppages to defend wages and conditions. But the last year has seen the teachers become increasing frustrated with the unions’ token campaign against the attack on pensions by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, while they did nothing at all to fight against job cuts.
The teachers at Edward Wilson had taken part in the largest strike seen in Britain in 30 years involving 2.5 million public sector workers in 20 different unions on November 30.
On Wednesday, members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and University and College Union (UCU) took 24-hour strike action in London to protest cuts in pension rights.
The stoppages were to have been part of a day of national strike action involving over half a million workers in several trade unions, including the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), the fifth largest in the UK with 290,000 members. Instead the action was isolated and restricted to London only by the education unions, while the PCS called off all action.
The UCU said the strike had affected 46 colleges and 16 universities in the capital. The NUT has 55,000 members across London’s 2,500 schools and said that the affect of its strike would vary from borough to borough.
The department of education said that one-fifth of schools were completely closed and two-fifths had lessons cancelled.
Cambridge University has imposed an unprecedented seven-term (two-and-a-half-year) suspension on a PhD student, Owen Holland, for his part in a peaceful protest last November.
The move is a gross violation of Holland’s democratic rights. It is calculated to intimidate students and counter all expressions of political dissent.
Holland’s crime is to have led the collective reading of a poem against Universities Minister David Willetts. This led to Willetts’s talk being cancelled. No other protester that night has been penalised in the same way. But the severity of the punishment meted out is intended to deter future protests.
Education Secretary Michael Gove has given the go-ahead for Breckland Middle School in Suffolk to be renamed IES Breckland, run under a £21 million, ten-year contract by Swedish for-profit firm Internationella Engelska Skolan.
Despite decades of encroachment by the private sector into state schools by successive Labour and Tory-led governments, the involvement of explicitly profit-making companies heralds a watershed in the drive to privatise state education.
The Guardian said of the development at Breckland, “The introduction of a profit-seeking company into the management of the school is allowed because of a technicality: the founder of the school is a charitable trust that has decided to outsource the entirety of the management to a fee-charging company—whose global business has a turnover of £60m a year, earning profits of £5m, according to analysis by the Adam Smith Institute. The development is set to open the floodgates.”
Respublica, a Conservative Party think tank supported by British Prime Minister David Cameron, has proposed the setting up of military schools within the British school system. The plan is outlined in a document titled “Military Academies: Tackling disadvantage, improving ethos and changing outcome.”
Authors Phillip Blond and Patricia Kaszynska stress their proposal is for a new model of schooling as a “solution to the social ills that became manifest at the time of the riots”—a reference to last August’s inner-city disturbances in England. They are part of the wholesale privatisation of state-funded education via privately controlled but publicly funded academies and Free Schools.
The report states that the military schools would be a “partnership in the delivery of education between the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Department for Education (DfE)”.
Downhills Primary School in Haringey, north London, has launched a legal challenge to Education Secretary Michael Gove’s attempt to force it to become a privately run academy. The school has accused Gove of illegally trying to force the school to be taken out of its local authority remit and be taken over by a private sponsor.
Gove wants to force Downhills, which inspectors last year put under notice to improve its performance, to accept that it will become an academy by the end of this month or face the dissolution of its governing body.
Academies are state funded but privately controlled schools. They are free from any Local Authority control, including pay and conditions, and are given extra cash for services that councils would have provided. Some of this extra expenditure is channelled through to existing academy chains ready to provide these services.
A demonstration Saturday of over 1,000 parents, children, teachers, assistants and residents in Harringey, London protested government plans to force three local primaries to become academies.
The march began at Downhills primary school and walked through the busy high street to Harringey Town Hall where a rally was held. Marchers chanted, “No to academies, Save our schools” and “[Education Secretary] Michael Gove, we won’t be beaten, Leave our school and close down Eton.”
Downhills in Tottenham, North London, an area of social deprivation that was the starting point of last summer’s riots, was given 12 months to improve its performance last year. It faces being made an academy by 2013.
England’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted, is carrying out trials on the latest of a series of measures designed to pressure schools into either taking on academy status or facing closure.
Under the guise of “raising achievement”, the government is making it impossible for schools, particularly those in areas of poverty and deprivation, to achieve “outstanding”, “good” or even “satisfactory” inspection results. This will speed up the process of transferring all schools out of local authority control and into the hands of privately run “academy groups.”
More than 200 parents, teachers and members of the local community in Otley, West Yorkshire, marched through the town on Saturday, November 26, to oppose the decision to transform their local senior school into a privately run academy.
Prince Henry’s Grammar School, with 1,400 pupils, founded in 1607 by royal charter, is the oldest school in the region. It is a comprehensive school, which serves the whole community in this small town in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.
At present, it is part of the educational provision of Leeds City Council, but as an academy it would be run as a publicly funded school with independent control over its finance, curriculum, terms and conditions of staff, recruitment, redundancy, the length of the school day and so on. In effect, it would be privatised.
The Guardian has published analysis from the most up-to-date annual finance reports of five major chains of Academy schools.
Each chain receives tens of millions of pounds from the government each year. The accounts reveal a significant slice of public funds is being used to pay senior staff six-figure salaries.
Academy schools are privately controlled but state funded. They receive a similar amount from the government as state schools. However, because they are free from any local authority control, academies are given extra cash for the services that councils would have otherwise provided. Academies are also not bound by rules and regulations governing the pay and conditions of senior staff.