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Teachers sink Academy plan


Good news from Newham, east London. On 17 June, Newham Authority went public in the local paper, The Newham Recorder, announcing that it was dropping its plan to turn The Royal Docks Community School into an academy school controlled by Ark, a foundation run by merchant bankers and currency speculators. Now it is officially exploring the idea of a Trust School with the Co-operative College (part of the co-operative movement).

Given the local balance of forces and the fact that Newham has an Executive Mayor, who was initially in favour of the academy, this change of direction is a great step forward for state education, allowing the Newham family of schools to be retained.

The campaign to stop an academy and retain The Royal Docks has continued for ten months and has involved two extremely successful strikes, one a combined NUT/NASUWT strike with a joint picket line. There have been three public meetings and several mass leafleting projects of the local neighbourhoods.

The distribution of an anti-academy newsletter across the local Royal Docks ward during a by-election led to a fall in the Labour vote. Countless hard-hitting press articles appeared in both local newspapers, and there have been several emailings of local councillors.

Other activity included sterling work on the governing body; the creation of a dedicated network of local parents against an academy; the leafleting of seven feeder primary schools; lobbying by Newham NUT of the Authority and Mayor, followed by an NUT Deputation (and then an NASUWT deputation) to the Mayor; and finally under the auspices of the Newham NUT Secretary the coordination and sponsorship of exploratory meetings between the NUT, the Co-op and the Authority.

This sophisticated campaign has involved a sensitive interweaving of industrial action, mass campaigns, lobbying and negotiations. The basis of the campaign was always clear and principled, based on maximum unity of all who could be united in the community (including teachers, parents, students, and ultimately the Mayor), as well as the bedrock of unity between the unions at school level, linking the three teacher unions with positive support from other unions such as Unison and GMB.

The telling use of strike action that was organised, focused and directed at involving the community, promoted the concentration of ideas and was a lever for organisation across the borough. In the end, the campaigners sought to enlist the support of the Mayor, and though it was hard work, eventually he shifted tack, which needed courage.

The campaign illustrates that resistance can have an impact, and can be successful. Although from day one, many counselled the strikers and the union to give in, as “you won’t get anywhere – it’s a hopeless cause” – everyone remained true to their convictions and the Ark Academy has been sunk.

Obviously, the trust will not be a paradise but steps are already being taken to influence the working and educational environment of the Co-op Trust, to ensure staff and parents are fully involved and that their involvement in the progress of the school is extended. But the essential aim has been accomplished: no academy. The school remains within the authority, and other secondary schools in Newham receive a major boost as the academy bandwagon has been halted temporarily.