Music pumping in my ears, feet pounding away on the cross trainer, I gaze up from the flashing dashboard to the row of televisions hanging from the gym ceiling. Ivory poachers in Gabon, a posh gardener in a tight squeeze, the usual random something or nothing on London Live all bid to grab my attention with alluring titbits of subtitled conversations. Gazing towards the last screen, fifteen little words grab my attention so violently that I catch my breath. Wrapping the enormity of their meaning around my throat, those little fifteen words stab me in my chest and make me gasp out loud “No!”
If we were living in a time of reason and logic I would have laughed – How on earth would the privatisation of the British education system make it through Parliament? But we are living in bizarre times. A moment in history where junior doctors are being branded as greedy, while bankers and banks are bailed out. Forests, parks, libraries and social housing are being sold at a public loss for a private profit. Workers rights are being dismantled, employment tribunal fees have risen whilst legal aid cut. Zero hour contracts for our most vulnerable and tax breaks for the wealthy.
I have been a primary school teacher for nearly ten years. I have worked in both Local Authority schools and an academy chain.
If these proposals go ahead we are literally and figuratively selling our children’s futures for a private profit. I entered teaching because I knew that a good education can change lives. It changed mine. Every evening or weekend, when I’m marking, or planning or creating resources for my class, I’m motivated because I know I am helping to shape a child’s future. It is a beautiful honours and I get to do it for a living. Politics, business and money can not play part in that process.
The most obvious difference between the two types of school is that Local Authority schools are bound by the National Curriculum and the Teachers Work and Pay Conditions frameworks, whereas academies are free to develop their own curriculum, HR practices and standards. After working in an academy however, I felt the most dramatic difference was school culture, the academy felt like a business.
“There is no educational proposition behind them [academies], no philosophy of how or what children should learn, no model of what a school should be like. The point of academies is political, not educational.”
My time teaching in an academy was soul destroying. A culture of blame, pressure and divide and conquer fuelled by financially driven leaders and impressionable inexperienced staff naturally led to high staff turnover and challenges in behaviour. In my first year, only two classes out of the whole school lasted the academic year without changing teachers at least once. Children in desperate need of stability, received erratic teaching practice, at times by trainee teachers with no class based experience.
Perhaps this is why academy advisers swarmed the academy during the Ofsted inspection. Failing teachers disappeared as experienced advisers appeared in their classrooms teaching lessons and being observed by inspectors. There was a lot riding on the inspection outcomes, principals bonus payments for starters.
This is what happens when children are not children but results. The success of the “chain” relies heavily on incredible test results. Incredulous results. During my time at the academy I saw staff meetings dedicated to the editing of children’s independent writing folders, teachers forced to raise grades and accusations of the principal changing test results. I heard the pressure for “results” being compared to that of the pressures on the trading floor.
By no means am I saying that all academies are terrible or that the teachers are all inexperienced or don’t care about the children. Far from it, many of my friends are amazing and dedicated teachers working in academies. There just isn’t enough consistency or evidence that the academy model is successful for it to be rolled out to every state school in the UK.
If you agree please support the campaign to stop the proposed plans to convert all state schools into academies by signing the petition below.
If you don’t have time to follow all the links in the article, this link below nicely sums up the financial impact and profits of academies.