The purpose of this blog is to provide analytical commentary on formal and informal labour organisations and their attempts to resist ever more brutal forms of exploitation in today’s neo-liberal, global capitalism.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation – Hands Off Our Schools!

The local UCU association at Nottingham University is currently organising a series of talks on local anti-cuts initiatives. The purpose is to highlight the broader dimension of the coalition government’s attack on the public sector and welfare state. This post provides an account of the second event in this series, the presentation by Andrea Oates from the local anti-academies initiative ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ on Wednesday, 24 April.

The ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ campaign, Andrea Oates outlined, goes back to 2010, when the coalition government pushed a new education bill in record time through parliament as one of its first initiatives of restructuring. The transition to academies is financially incentivised. Schools, which decide to become academies, receive an extra amount of cash and at first sight, moving towards this new status is highly desirable. Nevertheless, this transition comes at a cost to wider society. In a time, when the budgets of local authorities are already under severe pressure due to cuts, money is taken away from other schools and channelled into academies. And it is not only other schools, which suffer. The moment education funds are transferred to academies, local education authorities find it increasingly difficult to continue their services for children with special needs. In short, the most vulnerable children suffer as a result of the focus on academies and general inequalities in society are deepened further. The ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ campaign is concerned that the move to academies is simply a first step towards the privatisation of primary and secondary education. The more recent emphasis on ‘free schools’, which will in turn compete for government resources and students with academies, seems to confirm this concern.

The shift to academies is characterised by a democratic deficit. There is no ballot required to confirm the move and consultations are often a sham exercise. Experience with existing academies indicates, Andrea Oates argued, that staff and parents are increasingly side-lined in the new governing structures. Equally important, unlike the current system, where parents have the possibility to approach local education authorities, should they have a problem with a particular school, this contact is no longer available under the new system.

Teachers, in turn, are especially concerned that their terms and conditions are outside national collective agreements once their school has become an Academy. There are already first examples where new recruits in academies are on contracts with fewer days of annual leave. As we know from other areas of the economy, the moment a two-tier employment system emerges in a particular sector, there is downward pressure on all contracts within this area (see also The Age of Austerity: Fighting Cuts and Privatisation – Broxtowe Save Our NHS!).

Photo by Alan Stanton

The goal of the ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ campaign is to retain the much fairer comprehensive system, which has the objective to provide a good school for everyone, secures additional assistance for children with special needs, and which is controlled by democratically elected local authorities. In its activities, the campaign provides resources in support of teachers and parents, who oppose the transition of schools into academies. They organise public meetings, engage with parents’ groups and work closely together with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) branch in Nottingham. The broader alliance, on which ‘Hands Off Our Schools’ is based, has not yet successfully stopped the move by a local school into an academy. Nevertheless, it succeeded at slowing down the transition on numerous occasions and as a result of the struggles the density of teachers organised by the NUT has increased. Ultimately, Andrea Oates asserted, in order to be successful, an anti-academies movement in a particular school needs to include both the parents of pupils at the school as well as the teachers. Only the combination of both can actually halt the transition.

Importantly, Andrea Oates, herself a Labour Party Councillor in Beeston North, made also clear that simply hoping and working for a new Labour government in 2015 will not be enough to stop the marketization of primary and secondary education. We should not forget, she pointed out, that the ideas of academies had been introduced by a previous Labour government (see also A socialist alternative through the Labour Party? Reflections on transformative politics). Hence, pressure also needs to be built up within the Labour Party for another education policy. There is currently a motion for the Labour Party annual conference being circulated within various local party associations with the goal of securing a commitment to the reversal of the academies programme in September.    

Similar to restructuring in other areas such as health and higher education, this is not about saving money in times of austerity. Ultimately, it is part of a wider ideologically driven agenda for the public sector, attempting to implement some kind of market, supposed to raise standards. To date, there has been no evidence supporting related claims. Perhaps, it is all about privatising at least parts of the education system and to provide new investment opportunities for big financial investment funds?

Prof. Andreas Bieler
Professor of Political Economy
University of Nottingham/UK

Personal website:

27 April 2013

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