Union accuses Michael Gove of running education as if it were the Wild West

Tim Lezard

Teachers have voiced strong opposition to the government’s plans to force schools to become academies.

NASUWT and NUT are holding their annual conferences this weekend, and members of both unions expressed their anger at Michael Gove’s proposals.

In Bournemouth, NASUWT members said they would continue working with local communities to oppose the opening of academies and free schools by predatory chains of private providers.

They warned that allowing free schools to operate without local democratic accountability will see fringe groups taking over the curriculum and a widening of the attainment gap between different social and ethnic groups.

NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The academisation programme is not and never has been about raising standards or increasing educational opportunity.

“It has always been about creating a free-market free-for-all in our public education system. The Secretary of State has had to bribe, bully and force schools into converting.

“The whole education system has been plunged into turbulence and uncertainty as a result of academisation.

“The time has come to shift the focus from structural change to the values and ethos which should drive our public education system.”

Meanwhile in Liverpool, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: “There is no evidence to support the coalition government’s claims that academies raise standards of attainment for pupils, and it is clear that the policy is becoming increasingly unpopular.

“The NUT’s YouGov survey of parents asked whether schools having academy status improved educational standards and a majority of parents answered that it does not.

“Despite the pressures being exerted on schools by the Secretary of State for Education and his officials in the Department for Education to become academies, many schools simply do not want to. Being cut off from the support and provision of specialist services that local authorities provide is not seen as an advantage by the majority of schools.

“Academy chains cannot be held to account by parents and the wider community. As a result it will be pupils, often the most vulnerable, who will suffer from the loss of local authority services and the undermining of local accountability of schools.

“Increasingly, the resources of the Department for Education are being siphoned off to promote the government’s academy and free school agenda. While professional, career civil servants are losing their jobs and regional offices are closing, hired hands – education ‘advisers’ and academy brokers – are being contracted to travel the country, bribing and bullying schools into becoming academies.

“Michael Gove is running education as if it were the Wild West rather than a key public service. Where schools have met targets imposed by government, the government has simply moved the goal posts and upped the targets, then forced them to convert to an academy.  Even Ofsted has recognised that the intervention of DfE officials is distracting schools from getting on with school improvement.

“The Secretary of State has made it clear that he is not opposed to schools being run for profit. As soon as education is opened up to market forces we will see a decline in the standard of provision. Academy chains will answer to shareholders, not the community. There is a danger that we will see the sort of corrupt practices emerging in the USA where the growth of charter schools, on which academy and free schools are modelled, continues apace.

“It is not structures that improve standards of education but the support and funding that schools receive. It is time for the government to change tack. The London Challenge and the City Challenge programme had excellent results in bringing up the standards of all pupils in some of the poorest boroughs in the country. This was achieved by schools working collaboratively together, not in competition with each other, sharing best practice and resources at a fraction of the cost of the academy and free school programme.”

* Both unions have asked to meet Michael Gove to discuss his plans for pay and pensions in the profession. 

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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