Friday, 18 March 2011

Harrow Education Unions Challenge Academy Conversion

As education unions in Brent consider taking action over Claremont High School's conversion to academy status, their counter-parts in Harrow have issued a statement about proposals for seven of the borough's high schools to become academies. In contrast to Brent Council, Harrow Council has clearly stated its opposition to their schools becoming academies.

This is the statement by the NUT, ATL, NASUWT, GMB and Unison:
Our hard working members in teaching and support roles across Harrow face an unprecedented period of change as seven of Harrow’s secondary schools decide whether or not to break away from the local authority and become answerable to government as independent academy schools. Academy conversion brings with it serious repercussions for our membership who face potential job loss and alterations to their terms and conditions. Yet all we are hearing from school management teams in this consultation is half hearted ‘intentions’ to retain existing national and local terms and conditions with no commitment to formal agreements. 
We will take full part in these important consultations and will use all available means to act in our members'  best interests but we are vigorously opposed to academy conversion and we support Harrow Council’s preference that all schools should remain within the local school family. Our members do not want to become academy employees, do not support the academy programme and are passionately opposed to it.
If the seven school governing bodies do decide to convert to academies, they will be independent from the local authority breaking a rich tradition of community based, locally accountable and publicly-managed schools. For many years our comprehensive schools have been nationally recognised for achievements in educational excellence which have benefited many generations of Harrovians. We do not have a tradition of failing schools which the original style of academies were mainly focused on.
The expansion of academies are no more than a Coalition Government experiment which is intent on breaking up state comprehensive education by introducing competition and demanding that schools compete for money, students and staff as businesses against one another. It is proven that market capitalism has no place in education and these changes are driven by an ideological disdain for all thing’s public. The Coalition Government should not be allowed to play party politics with our children’s future.
It is also claimed by Government that academies will improve standards but independent research and evaluation provides no evidence that academies are better than other schools in raising educational performance. We struggle to see how academy conversion will help schools in Harrow who are already judged to be outstanding and given the unknown and risky implications of conversion, this could have serious implications for our young people’s life chances.
It is also unclear how any of the freedoms which the Government claims academies will bring can improve schools. Harrow schools already work with the biggest devolved school budget than any other local authority in the country and with a significant degree of discretion and freedom to act in collaboration with other schools and Harrow Council.
To suggest, as Bob Blackman MP has done (Conservative Harrow East), that schools should be ‘freed from the dead hand of Harrow Council’ is fundamentally wrong, unhelpful and is fuelled by political prejudice. He does not recognise that academies will be under a far greater degree of central control and scrutiny, in terms of budgets, school performance and governing body appointees than at present and will be directly answerable to the Secretary of State and his regulator, the Young People’s Learning Agency. Free from bureaucratic interference this is not.
"Harrow schools play a major part of community life which means the academy consultation is of paramount importance to the residents of Harrow. The decision by school governing bodies will not only affect the seven schools in consultation but we believe will have a negative impact upon all schools in the borough and will have far reaching implications on the level of educational provision across the area.
Conversion will impact the life chances of future generations of Harrow’s young people and will involve a huge transfer of public assets (e.g. school buildings & land) to the private sector. Any decision should not be taken lightly or without hearing all views from the local community.
"A ‘big question’ like this requires ‘big society’ input, consultation and civic engagement from the wider community. We encourage pupils, parents, staff, our members, Harrow Councillors and interested residents to take part in the school consultation meetings which are taking place on Monday 21st March 2011 at the seven affected schools (more information is available from school websites).
 To hear more of a presentation of the real facts concerning academies we urge people to attend an Anti Academies Alliance parents/public meeting on Friday 25 March at 7pm (Council Chambers, Harrow Civic Centre, Station Road, HA1 2UU).

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