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Teachers Are Ready To Challenge The Government Every Step Of The Way On Academies

"There are only two options – they are either making it up on the back of a fag packet or they are consciously trying to mislead. Maybe there is a third: both."

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In the aftermath of George Osborne's Budget, attention understandably focused on the cuts to disability benefits that ultimately led to Iain Duncan Smith's resignation.

Now that the changes – which were only ever "proposals", according to the government – to the personal independence payment (PIP) have been scrapped, another hugely contentious aspect of the Budget is gathering steam.

Education reforms highlighted by the chancellor and expanded on by education secretary Nicky Morgan's white paper call for all schools to become academies by 2020, amnesties on Ofsted inspections when new heads take over failing schools, and the scrapping of existing teacher qualifications.

Unveiling the plan, which applies only in England because education policy is devolved in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, Morgan said the white paper was a "blueprint for how we can work together".

"Not just to improve standards, important though that is, but to create a fundamentally different education system – an education system fit for the 21st century, an education system which is truly focused on the future," she said.

However, some teachers are in no mood to work with the education secretary over the first of those proposed major reforms: the academisation of all schools.

Unions have condemned the plans as a "disaster for education and local democracy", two separate petitions calling for the proposals to be scrapped have passed the 100,000-signature threshold for a parliamentary debate, and this week thousands of teachers marched in protest at the plans. There is even an unofficial punk protest anthem.

Academy status – which takes schools outside of local authority control – was initially created by Tony Blair's Labour government in 2000, but was only intended for failing schools.

The Conservative manifesto for the 2015 general election called for the creation of 500 additional "free schools" within five years but made no specific mention of turning existing schools into academies.

There are 3,381 state secondary schools in England, 2,075 of which are academies. But of 16,766 primary schools, only 2,440 are academies.

The teachers union NUT told BuzzFeed News that the cost of converting a school to academy status was £25,000, meaning that by its reckoning, the government's academisation policy would cost around £390 million.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, said the academies plan was a "complete distraction from the very real problems".

"There is a big teacher shortage that keeps growing, class size is growing," he told BuzzFeed News. "There is chaos in the primary curriculum, and a funding crisis. And this academy thing addresses none of them."

The Department for Education says schools that convert to academy status improve at a faster rate than those under local authority control, but Courtney said the statistics it uses to back this up are "so misleading to almost be lies", as the policy was initially introduced for failing schools, which have more scope to improve than schools rated good or outstanding.

We asked protesters at an anti-academies march in Westminster on Wednesday night to tell us their message to the education secretary:

"Hands off state education. Our children's schools are NOT for sale!"

"Don't destroy education legislation and expertise built over many years. Don't force schools under MATs [multi-academy trusts]. MATs are private trusts. Keep democratic accountability."

"Pupils not profit! Solidarity with doctors, refugees and teachers! Striking together will WIN!"

"Big business, hands off our schools!"

*

At the march, teacher Jenny Brown, who said she had been in education all her life, said she was “not against academies per se, but against false information that ‘all is well’".

That protest song mentioned earlier is by Gary Kaye, an English and media studies teacher from North Yorkshire.

"Nicky Morgan's Eyes", sung to the tune of "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" by The Adverts, includes the lyrics:

I’m standing in the playground with a massive bunch of keys

I’m giving them to businessmen who run academies

I don’t believe that teachers should be properly qualified

Experience counts for nothing and then I realise

I’m looking through Nicky Morgan’s eyes

View this video on YouTube

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Kaye, who performed the song live during an anti-academies march in Leeds yesterday, told BuzzFeed News he had been playing music for 30 years and that a protest song seemed like a "natural fit".

"There are two ways to look at protests – you can either protest with a frown or with a smile, and I'd rather do the latter," he said.

While it may not surprise everyone that the teaching unions and Labour, as well as the Local Government Association, oppose the government's reforms, they have also attracted outspoken criticism from Tory councillors.

Melinda Tilley is the Oxfordshire county council cabinet member for education, and just happens to be in David Cameron's constituency.

She characterised the plans as "Big Brother gone mad".

"Why doesn't the Government just get off everybody's backs? Schools know what is best for them, their pupils and their parents,” she told the Oxford Mail.

Peter Edgar is education executive in Hampshire, where 84% of schools are rated good or outstanding.

"It is totally illogical to take a quality education authority and try to destroy it," he told the Portsmouth News.

"It will be incredibly disruptive to force schools along this route. Schools that are achieving and are outstanding should not be forced to become academies. The headteachers I speak to are horrified by this prospect."

Online, opposition to academies has centred around the #TellNickyNo hashtag. NUT deputy general secretary Courtney's message to the education secretary is: "Don’t do this. I would say, ‘No, Nicky, you have to concentrate on the real crisis facing schools: the crisis of recruitment, the curriculum, funding, that’s what you should be dealing with.'"

Well done @LucyMPowell. We are hugely grateful for your support. Working together we can win this! #tellNickyNo

The underlying fear for all of those opposed to forced academisation is that it opens up state schools to privatisation.

Shortly before the Budget and the white paper, Ofsted chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw issued a stinging rebuke to academy executives for being paid up to £225,000 per year without delivering results that would justify such sums, and said there was nothing to indicate that any mistakes made by local authorities would not be repeated by academies.

"This is the wrong priority, really undemocratic," Courtney told BuzzFeed News. "There are only two options – they are either making it up on the back of a fag packet or they are consciously trying to mislead.

"Maybe there is a third: both."


Matthew Champion is a weekend editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at matthew.champion@buzzfeed.com.

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