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Forced School Academisation Protest Rally at Nottingham Speakers' Corner

24 March 16 words: Gareth Morgan
"Under current plans Nottingham will have the largest cut to schools funding outside of London with a 17% cut by 2020"
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image: Nottingham NUT

"It's not about freedom for schools, it's about isolation. They should be working together rather than forced to compete with one another" - that was the message coming out of this evening's demonstration regarding the planned forced academisation of the country's community schools.

Organised by Nottingham branches of teaching unions including the NUT, the city's educators were out in force in the Old Market Square to voice their concerns regarding a whole range of proposals put forward in the government's white paper on schools. Look beyond the increased funding for school sport from your can of sugary drink and there's a raft of measures which could have profound effects on the city's education system and the local authority.

These moves include the compulsory transition of all schools to privately-run academy status by 2022, changes to the money that schools get and the removal of parent governors from school boards. Under current plans Nottingham will have the largest cut to schools funding outside of London with a 17% cut by 2020, and there's the disingenuous carrot of increased money to schools who do academise more quickly. Watch this be replaced by the stick very fast.

There are roughly 15,600 community schools (those with local authority oversight) in the UK and there has been £140 million put aside by the treasury to facilitate the transition to academies. This would require eleven schools per day to convert from today until 2020 and Labour are already saying that the policy is woefully underfunded with as much as £560 million more needed to see it through.

Nottingham has a mix of community schools and academies, which broadly follow the national statistics: 80% of non-academised primary schools are good or outstanding, only 15% of academies are above average. The stats are pretty damning and call to mind the adage "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" - especially with the very real possibility of making it worse.

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photo: Gareth Morgan

The removal of parent governors has also come up against resistance since the idea was announced last week and the crowd around the Cloughie statue were vehemently opposed to its implementation here. It is a manifestation of a long-standing Tory ideal, a move to make schools "more business-like", and the plan is to replace this long-standing community accountability role with governors whose skillsets comprise of HR, business leadership and entrepreneurship. Yet, surely these qualities are not mutually exclusive.

Speaking at the rally was Councillor Sam Webster, Nottingham City Council's portfolio holder for schools, who I grabbed to say a few words. Cllr. Sam said: "Nottingham has fantastic community schools, and community schools in the truest sense. These are schools which parents are involved in the running of as both governors and in other roles offering governance, accountability and oversight. This will be taken away by the forced academistion and remove the influence parents can have on learning, replaced by large academy chains without parents' best interests at heart. Some academy chains have already done away with governing bodies in their schools, instead answering only to a Trust Board which could be based anywhere in the country, and could be responsible for up to seventy schools.

“These policies are not based on any evidence, with there being no studies proving academies increased attainment, and all schools will be forced to academise regardless of their performance. It will be hugely disruptive and cause upheaval in schools that are already doing well. There can be no reason for this other than it being driven by ideology."

Local NUT officer and thirteen-year veteran teacher in Nottingham's schools Tom Unterrainer, who organised the rally, said "This is the slow creep of schools being taken away from local authority control and given over to private academy chains that has not seen standards for children or teachers improve. [If this policy is pursued] there will be more rallies in Nottingham."

A sizeable portion of Nottingham's teachers have made their voices heard on the very real issues created by these proposed reforms. With junior doctors only recently seen holding their own rallies in the square, going out on yet another strike next month, how soon will it be until our educators may be pushed to follow suit?

The Nottingham NUT's Protest: Hands Off Our Schools - No Forced Academies took place at the Brian Clough Statue, Speakers' Corner, on Wednesday 23 March

Gareth Morgan on Twitter

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