Continuing the fight against academies

A picket line of striking teachers outside Galliard Primary School
A picket line of striking teachers outside Galliard Primary School in February

Edmonton school teacher Anne-Marie Hickling on the reality of academisation

The start of a new school year for a teacher can have greater significance than the start of January, returning refreshed from the summer break with a new class of children, new ideas, and a renewed energy for all the months of teaching and learning ahead.

But September 2017 was a new year like no other for five Edmonton schools. It brought the disconcerting news that headteachers from Brettenham, Fleecefield, Galliard, Raynham and Wilbury were exploring the creation of a multi-academy trust, or ‘MAT’. It took a little while for the reality to sink in, after all this was not a forced academisation, but five similar schools looking to academise in order to work together.

All five headteachers admitted anything they wanted to achieve could actually be done in a federation arrangement. We knew academisation did not improve the learning outcomes for primary children or secure additional funding. The fact there is no accountability, and that academies can change the terms and conditions of employment, fired us into action.

Educating ourselves about the facts was an empowering activity and it also gave members more confidence when speaking to people about the campaign. As the National Education Union rep at Galliard, I started by organising joint union meetings. Faced with a choice of doing nothing or making ourselves heard, we held member ballots for strike action.

At the time, I naively thought we would be offered a chance to negotiate and that there’d be no need to strike. However, after two meetings between staff and governors, it became clear those in power had their heads down. They could only say that “nothing would change” in a MAT and that we’d get “left behind” if we didn’t join.

Our campaign included a public meeting attended by 120 people, addressed by Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan and NEU president Kiri Tunks. We also gained support from Kate Osamor MP. Parents set up Edmonton Against Academies and organised two marches locally, each attended by more than a hundred people. The whole campaign was such a massive team effort.

Our picket lines on the strike days – 12 days in all – were the most memorable elements of the campaign. We endured snow, freezing fog and high winds. After the first couple of strike days, we embraced different themes; a teddy bears’ picket, funny hats, and cheerleading. Putting a smile on the faces children, we communicated the message that we really did care about our school.

On Thursday 28th March we were informed the academy orders had been signed by education minister Damian Hinds and that from 1st April all five schools would no longer be publicly maintained.

We are saddened by the loss of five local authority schools to a MAT. Feelings of loss, at a time when the trees are in blossom and there are signs of new life all around, are sickening. However, our experience has brought with it a determination to share our ideas. We learned that having representation on governing bodies is vital; a campaign can never start too early; and there needs to be a change in the law to require a ballot of all stakeholders.

Ultimately, we hope there will be an end to academisation and changes to bring academies back into public hands. The evidence is that privatisation of education is a disservice to children, families, and communities. They deserve better.