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Teachers fight academy plan


Teachers in the NUT and NASUWT are due to strike for two days on 28 and 29 January at The Royal Docks Community School against Newham Authority’s proposal to impose academy status. Meanwhile, the Authority has indicated that the academy sponsor for the school is to be ARK, an American and British sponsor run by a group of billionaire and multimillionaire merchant bankers, hedge fund operators and currency speculators.

The East London staff first learned of this when ARK rang the acting head teacher to inform her, though it was to be some time before Newham Authority confirmed it.

In school meetings during September 2008, Authority spokespersons reassured staff (to lessen opposition to the proposal – a forlorn hope) by saying it would find a “good” sponsor. If ARK is good, one hates to think what a bad one might look like.

The findings of initial researches about ARK have not been reassuring. First on the list of ARK’s corporate sponsors is Aspect Capital. Aspect funds are (according to its website) “organised as exempted companies incorporated with limited liability in the Cayman Islands, the investment activities of the funds are not regulated or otherwise overseen by the Caymans Islands’ government or any other regulator”. Rather than avoiding tax, perhaps this body should be paying it to the government which could then provide funds for all state schools to be rebuilt or refurbished.

Is ARK the type of role model judged suitable and appropriate by the Authority to run a school? It is banks, hedge funds and financial speculators that have brought the British economy and world economy to the brink of ruin. Are we really expected to have our state schools with their multimillion pound assets and publicly funded running costs handed over to these people to run as a private concern? ARK has a poor reputation for management–employee relationships and countenances no interference whatsoever in the way it operates, ignoring the councils it has taken schools away from. Reassurances that the Authority would insist on certain practices from the sponsor are hollow.

Also noteworthy is that some of ARK’s schools have fallen below the government’s National Challenge exam achievement targets (aimed at piling pressures on schools with challenging intakes of students) too, as Royal Docks did. Yet no punitive action has been taken against them, which indicates that ARK will not be an instant panacea, waving a magic wand over the links between poverty and educational performance in the borough. It also shows that the academy project is a politically driven, privatisation agenda utterly devoid of educational content.

It is not too late for parents, residents, teachers and all connected with the Newham education service to raise voices and concerns to put a stop to this worrying development. There has been no consultation, no debate, no parental involvement over the question of an academy or ARK. It has been a fiat from the Authority and the executive mayor. Local discussions are taking place to hold public meetings and a possible borough-wide “Stop the Academy” demonstration in March.

• Derby Council cabinet voted in January to abandon its plans for an Academy to replace Sinfin Community school. This is a significant victory for the determined campaign run by teachers and parents, involving seven days of strike action by NASUWT members, one of those a joint strike day with the NUT.