In just four days, two petitions calling for the government to halt its forced privatisation of all schools in England have reached over 100,000 signatures:
This shows resounding public opposition to this core budget policy. The second petition:
The latter is entitled:
Hold a public inquiry and referendum over turning all schools into academies.
Including both petitions, that’s a rate of over 2,000 signatures an hour, counting the time most British people are sleeping. Both petitions reaching 100,000 signatures means there will be double the mandate for this policy to be debated in parliament. It is government policy that all petitions reaching 100,000 signatures must be ‘considered’ for debate.
And the pressure is mounting.
These petitions are accelerating exponentially following an uproar on Twitter, strong condemnation from the Labour party, and the UK’s teachers and pupils themselves. This unrest is spreading like wildfire, and coalescing within the Anti Academies Alliance – a campaign group made up of parents, pupils, teachers, MPs, councillors, and trade unions.
As The Canary reported, this forced move away from local government and local accountability amounts to widespread privatisation of schools nationwide:
When schools become academies the property deeds are handed over at no cost to unaccountable academy chains. Often, the ownership of the public land, institutions and school equipment is entirely transferred to the private sector.
This wholesale move to academies amounts to a sweeping privatisation of our schools.
Academies are directly funded by central government but may be topped up by corporate sponsors. Whereas comprehensive public schools are funded by and made accountable to local government.
While academies may be funded by the state, they are now owned by private sector interest.
The petition reads:
The government has announced that every school in England will become an academy. This was not in their manifesto and is therefore a completely undemocratic move.
In a representative democracy, the government should not be allowed to force nationwide privatisation of our schools without a mandate from the citizens.
This move to academies means some of our schools will be controlled and owned by unaccountable ‘academy chains’- which call themselves ‘nonprofit charities’. However, companies such as arms manufacturers can gain control of our schools. Last year, BAE Systems took over the Furness Academy in Cumbria.
The latter petition continues:
There is growing evidence that academies underperform & serious questions about their financial oversight. Buildings & land are being handed over to unaccountable orgs. Once they are transferred there is no legal mechanism to get them back. Before all schools become academies we demand the government holds a full public inquiry – that takes into account educational research and the views of teachers, parents and students – followed by a referendum in order to show that they have a mandate.
The government’s own Schools Minister said, only last September:
This government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools [which are mostly local authority schools].
Yet Osborne thinks academies are the ticket:
It is simply unacceptable that Britain continues to sit too low down the global league tables for education. So I’m going to get on with finishing the job we started five years ago, to drive up standards and set schools free from the shackles of local bureaucracy.
In Osborne’s view, it is the “shackles” of local “bureaucracy” that is holding back Britain’s education system. Not 25% cuts by his own government.
The government will maintain that academies cannot make a profit, but this is disingenuous. Academy chains can milk profits from our education system through huge executive and administrative salaries of up to £370,000 per year. They can profiteer through using central government funding to buy equipment and services from companies they also own. Like Aurora Academies Trust, which demands all of its schools use the American ‘Paragon curriculum’ at a cost of £100,000 per year. This is the very same curriculum patented by its parent company Mosaica Education Inc. Bosses are also known to exploit expenses claims on the back of the taxpayer.
It seems Osborne may be more concerned about the “shackles” of local democracy inhibiting profit.
In 2010, the government exploited a procedure normally reserved for counter-terrorism laws to rush through the ‘Academies Act’. This act circumvented resistance from teachers, schools and pupils through ‘academy orders’, which made it an imperative for the Education Secretary to turn ‘eligible’ schools into academies. This is despite there being no evidence academies perform better. Now this imperative is going nationwide.
The standard lease from the government to these academy chain ‘charities’ is 125 years for peppercorn rent. For everyone who is alive today this represents a permanent transfer of public assets to private hands. Taking the average cost of primary schools at £3,700,000 each, and applying that to the 16,839 primary schools in England (excluding special schools) shines a light on this wholesale move to academies. It means we will lose an estimated £62.3bn worth of assets for the next 125 years, for little or no return. And this is only the primary schools.
To add insult to injury, George Osborne is to spend a whopping £1.5bn of taxpayer money on merely making the transition to academies.
The legal side of this transition is worrying. How much does it cement privatisation? Would it be easy for another government to return schools to local government control?
The Anti-Academy Alliance told The Canary:
Local democracy has gone out the window – local input into schools has disappeared. They are even doing away with parent governors and overall it will lead to a break up of a national system of education.
Pressure is mounting for the Conservatives to U-turn on core budget policies. An array of Tory backbenchers have already revolted over the cruel disability cuts contained within the budget. They were joined by a 50-year-strong Conservative voter who resigned and sabotaged his own website in a defiant act of protest. IDS’ public resignation and condemnation of austerity policies has set a precedent for further uprisings from within the Tory ranks.
On Question Time last week, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan hinted that the government may retreat on the disability cuts, rebranding them as “suggestions”.
We could see the same backtracking with the forced nationwide move to academies. It would gain the IDS Brexit camp political capital to side with public opinion and project the blame onto the Cameron leadership.
A so-called democracy that denies the public a referendum on widespread privatisation of its children’s schools is beyond a joke. These two soaring high petitions show that the public is demanding a say in their children’s futures.
-If you’re sleeping at the wheel and haven’t done it yet, SIGN the petition calling for a referendum.
– Sign the other one, too.
–Join the demonstration on Wednesday 23rd March
–Support The Canary so we can continue to bring you the stories that matter.
–Write to your MP, and tell them what you think about this wholesale move to academies.
Featured image via Flickr.
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