The Tories want to tear up state education—but our movement can stop them.
That was the message from campaigners against academies and free schools, who met in London last Saturday.
The 250-strong conference, called by the Anti-Academies Alliance and the South East TUC, gathered as the government was forced into a humiliating retreat on school funding.
The Tories planned to cut £148 million from council education budgets this year and £265 million next year—and use the cash to fund the growing number of academies.
But after several councils threatened legal action, the government has agreed to “review” the cuts.
News of the Tories’ chaos buoyed the teachers, pupils, union officials, councillors and parents gathered at the conference. They spoke about their campaigns and resistance to the Tories.
Kerry Prince, a student at Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School in Barnet, north London, described the battle to stop her school becoming an academy.
She told Socialist Worker, “The headteacher and some others tried to stop us campaigning. They even stopped me from taking part in an event in case I talked to parents about the academy plans.
“It felt like bullying—but it also gave me a sense of empowerment because I knew they were scared of our campaign.”
Rebecca Challice, another student at the school, said most students were against academies. “There’s a lot of worry about the uncertainty of it all,” she said.
People denounced the Tories’ so-called “free schools” as rebranded academies.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the teachers’ NUT union, called them “drop-out factories” that will brand poorer children as “failures”.
Many raged at the way academies and free schools take money away from state‑run ones and give unaccountable groups control over the curriculum.
Mary Bousted, from the ATL union, said the government was “moving from a state education system to a state-funded education system”.
“Competition means there are winners and losers,” she said. “You can’t have losers when you’re talking about children’s rights.”
Alasdair Smith, chair of the Anti-Academies Alliance, said campaigners had to make it clear that academies and free schools mean privatisation.
To applause, he added, “The reason there’s some confusion is that academies were started under New Labour.”
Mike Dance, a teacher in east London, described how a campaign at his school in Redbridge forced governors to withdraw academy plans.
“You have to move fast to give people confidence to fight,” he said.
Glen Mynott used the experience of Coventry (see right) to show how anti-academy campaigns can grow. “We started with just 16 NUT members striking in one school,” he said. “Then students walked out and NASUWT members struck with us.”
Anne Lemon from the NUT’s national executive said, “There’s a problem fighting one by one. We need to put pressure on the union leadership.”
Activists left the meeting confident that they could beat the Tories. As Alasdair Smith put it, “The people are with us. We need to mobilise them.”