Islington teachers to battle over academy and accountability

Thursday, 28th April 2011

Published: 29th April, 2011

A BATTLE over the future of education in Islington broke out yesterday (Thursday) after a primary school became the first in the borough to consider being funded directly from Westminster.

The National Union of Teachers and the Labour-controlled Town Hall have pledged to do everything they can to oppose the plan.

But the headteacher of Pooles Park Primary in Finsbury said his main concern was gaining the most amount of money to run his school.

Governors of Pooles Park launched a consultation exercise yesterday into the possibility of taking on academy status in what would be a joint venture with New North School in St Peter’s.

Unlike the academies under the previous Labour government, critics argue that the Conservative-Lib Dem version has less democratic control, ­little accountability and would lead to a two-tier education system as only those schools considered good or outstanding by education watchdog Ofsted can apply to be one (Pooles Park was classed as “good”). Ken Muller, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers in Islington, said that under the current system schools are accountable to the elected local authority, which is where parents can go if they need to complain.

An academy school is funded directly from Westminster, and there is no such accountability, he said.

“We intend to oppose this every way we can,” he added. “We have already been to the school to hand out leaflets to staff. We will raise a petition and believe that parents should be balloted, not just consulted, before such a change. 

“We’re also planning to organise a public meeting where, hopefully, MP Jeremy Corbyn will speak. These new academies can establish trusts and take over the property, building and land of the school. The council gets no say in this. All the governors have to do is decide.”

Pooles Park headteacher Greg Crawford said that Islington held back more money from schools than any other borough in the country last year.

“Until about a month ago I was neutral on academies, but I’d like to know where that money went,” he said. “They held back £968 for every student, which was significantly more than any other local authority. There’s about £80,000 or £90,000 due to us and one of the drivers of academies is financial. 

“Islington has the second highest child poverty rate in the country and Finsbury is the poorest ward in the borough, so we are the poorest of the poor. 

“At the moment the governors have decided to test opinion and see what people think. I’ve got no belief in academies in principle but headteachers have to look at the way things are going. All schools will probably be academies in two to three years as the government will probably legislate and, with Cambridge Education running Islington’s schools, I’m used to private companies.”

Islington’s Labour education chief Councillor Richard Watts opposes academies, but stressed that the school had only launched a consultation and no decisions had been made.

“I don’t think they’ll vote for an academy in the end,” he said. “The governors have agreed there should be a consultation but there’s an enormous amount of scepticism in the governing body. My gut feeling is that it’s not going to happen.”

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