Monday, 19 September 2016

It's Only Teacher Wasteland

At the same time as Justine Greening was trying to grab cheap headlines (but little backing) for her plans for selection and the expansion of grammar schools, the Department for Education were releasing shocking statistics, data which again exposed the real issues which politicians should be talking about if they really cared for children's education.

The data came from the DfE's annual 'Local analysis of teacher workforce', now updated with the latest 2015 statistics on a range of different factors. Above all, the research confirms the ever-rising numbers of teachers leaving the teaching profession (or, to use the DfE's chosen, if blunt, description, the 'wastage' rates) .


As the notes explain, the data shows the annual 'wastage' rate - the numbers of teachers no longer teaching anywhere within the state sector from one year to the next - as being over 1 in 10. In Inner London, it is as high as 1 in 8 teachers. This is a shocking waste of talented, trained teachers who have entered the profession to try and support young people, yet feel that they cannot stay in the profession any longer.

It's also clear from the DfE data that the overwhelming majority of this 'wastage' is now by teachers who have left teaching to look for other jobs, not those who have retired. This trend is clear from the figures:



Some of the other revealing data is in the tables that have been produced giving the number of schools saying that they had at least one temporarily filled or vacant post on the November 2015 census day:




These figures give a lie to the official Government line that there is a negligible vacancy rate in our schools. The real facts are clear - nearly 1 in 4 secondary schools in England are carrying a post which they cannot fill permanently, rising to not far short of a third of secondaries in Outer London.

These statistics reveal the stark reality of the effect of years of demoralising, damaging Government attacks on teachers, not least the relentless workload which has never been addressed despite the various promises that have been made. Further funding cuts will only make matters worse.

Teacher wastage is damaging for schools and the individual teachers who feel unable to continue as state-school teachers. It is especially damaging for pupils who need a stable environment to support their development.

Instead of looking backwards at outdated selective models of education, the Government should be acting as a matter of urgency to prevent this continued haemorrhage from the teaching profession.

Click here for a downloadable copy of some of the main charts and graphs


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

"Three secondary moderns in every town"

If anyone was in any doubt about the backward reactionary ideas at the top of the Tory Party, then today's unintended confirmation that they plan to go back to 11-plus selection confirms it. Even Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has called it 'tosh and nonsense', correctly pointing out that a “grammar school in every town” would also mean "three secondary moderns in every town". 

It would mean writing off most young people as failures at the age of 11. Of course, if you are planning for a future where most youth have no future, and an austerity Britain where budgets are slashed so that decent schooling is provided only for a select few, then the policy makes perfect sense. 

It's worth looking back to what was said back in the 1960s when society was looking forward to a better future, instead of backwards like today's Conservatives:

"If we are to help all children effectively, we certainly must assess their various qualities, measure and appraise them. Tests of various kinds are valuable and necessary for this purpose. Indeed, we need more guidance which is scientifically informed. But such information must be used to advance the progress of all children on a broad and varied front: the open road to personal fulfilment. Instead, we are today using it  as a regulator, a turnstile through which people are allowed to pass only in single file on production of standardized credentials".
Robin Pedley, the Comprehensive School 1963
It's also worth reminding everyone that comprehensive education was an undoubted success in widening educational achievement for all:

As Terry Wrigley summarises: "Those who believe that standards of education were higher in some previous Golden Age should look at the examination statistics. In 1972, 43% left school with no qualifications at all. Now it is less than 1%. Some argue that this means that the exams have become easier to pass; but it is hard to deny that the education of the 42%, who under the old system achieved no qualifications and now get some, has improved. In 1960, in a divided system, only 20% went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off. In fact only 16% of sixteen year olds achieved five O-level passes. In 2011 53% of pupils in the state sector achieved five or more GCSE A*-C grades including English and maths. Including ‘equivalents’ to GCSE (see below) it was 59%".


Here's today's National NUT press release:

Commenting on the Department for Education’s advice note which was photographed today outside Number 10, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“Theresa May said on the steps of Downing Street that she wanted ‘a country that works for everyone’. Yet now we hear of proposals to take education back to the 1950s, when children were segregated at age 11 and their life chances determined by the type of school they attended.

“Opening new grammar schools would not only be a backward step but is also a complete distraction from the real problems facing schools and education. For every grammar school there are three or four ‘secondary modern’ schools. All the evidence makes clear that segregating children in this way leads to lower academic standards. The argument that grammar schools create ‘social mobility’ are, in the words of the Ofsted Chief Inspector, ‘tosh and nonsense’. Evidence shows that in areas which retain grammar schools, disadvantaged students – who are eligible for FSM or who live in poor neighbourhoods – are much less likely to be enrolled, even if they score highly on Key Stage 2 tests.

“There is an opportunity with a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State to put education back on the right track. This means addressing the real challenges facing schools such as the funding crisis, teacher recruitment and retention problems, the chaos surrounding primary assessment and the fragmentation in the schools system. We need more coherence, not yet another layer of education provision in England.”

Thanks to @pollydonnison for the cartoon:

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Workload and testing - is that 'just the way it is' - or can unions make a difference?

GCSE results day has been and gone and so teachers, in all sectors, know their summer break is coming to an end. 

Of course, many teachers will have been working hard even while schools have officially been closed. A YouGov poll for the TES confirmed that "a third of those in their first year of teaching expect to work for at least three weeks this summer" in an effort to keep up with the ceaseless demands placed on them. As new NUT General Secretary, Kevin Courtney, commented, "It’s no wonder that there are so many that leave the profession so early".
https://www.teachers.org.uk/dfe-teacher-workload-diary-survey 
Hopefully most teachers will still feel they have at least had something of a summer break - but many will be resigned to the fact that the tsunami of workload - 60 hours a week even by official figures - is soon going to wash over them once again. 

The fact that teachers are having to work weekly hours  well over the European Working Time Directive is, regrettably, no longer 'news'. In fact, it has become such an accepted fact that teachers who question their workload are too often told by managers, even by their own colleagues, "that's just the way it is".

These working hours not only damage teachers' health, they damage education too. Overwork means teachers lack the time and energy to give youngsters the individual support they need. It's also a key factor contributing to a teacher retention crisis that will see many schoolchildren starting a new academic year with yet another set of new staff to get to know and, increasingly, some classes without a permanent qualified teacher at all.

Yet, as Anna-Christina Connelly explains in the Huffington Post this week, the idea that teachers are somehow 'failing' if they complain is even being reinforced by some teacher trainers (especially with so many teachers now being 'trained' on the job by overworked teaching colleagues): She writes: "From the moment I started my own PGCE, it began: “If you’re not crying, you’re not doing it right.” A tutor laughed. “NO COMPLAINTS“ read one of the several “motivational” posters which hung above the PC in the trainee room of my placement school. “Pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever.” But I was training to be a teacher, not a Marine"

The UK already has the greatest pupil-teacher ratios in Europe
Anna-Christina's article rightly concludes that, if the scandal of teacher workload is going to be addressed, we certainly can't rely on the Government to act. The now departed Nicky Morgan was at least forced to acknowledge that the problem existed but she, and her successor Justine Greening, support an austerity government determined to cut public spending - and so increase workload. Cuts already means fewer support staff, larger class sizes and cuts to the time teachers have to plan and prepare outside of class. It will also mean more teachers being denied performance-pay increases, further worsening morale and teacher retention. We also have to remember that austerity also means greater child poverty, the inescapable factor that most affects educational outcomes despite the best efforts of hard-working teachers and school staff.

Like a sweat-shop employer that demands yet more from its workforce instead of investing in the new machinery that would really raise productivity, this Government instead relies on league tables, Ofsted and the threat of academisation as a stick to maintain the pressure on schools and their staff. In turn, too many schools simply pass on that pressure by imposing individual exam targets and assessment policies that rarely take account of what it is reasonable to expect - from both teachers and their students.

The result has been not just excessive workload but an 'exam factory' system of schooling that doesn't just demoralise teachers, it makes many children unhappy too. It's one of the factors behind the Children's Society's finding that children in England are "among the unhappiest in the world".

As the Government moves the goalposts by imposing assessment changes on both primary and secondary schools, more young people - and their schools - find themselves unfairly labelled as 'failures'. This year's GCSE results showed a 2% decline in the proportion of A*-C grades. At Key Stage 2, the number of pupils deemed to have met the 'required standard' in maths, reading and writing collapsed from 80% in 2015 to 53% in 2016. In reality, those figures represent only the consequence of shambolic Government changes, not the efforts and abilities of children and schools. However, that won't have stopped many youngsters feeling like 'failures' - nor will it stop the Government using those figures as an excuse to achieve their stated aim of academising more primary schools.

The pressure from high stakes testing is also distorting the curriculum. Schools have sought to protect themselves by doing what's best to meet the latest Government targets - which may not be what's best for their students. For example, as a result of the 'EBacc' measurement excluding arts/creative subjects, last week's GCSE results revealed that entries in these areas were down 21% since 2010 and 8% since 2015, reported as being "the largest year on year decline for over a decade".

http://www.culturallearningalliance.org.uk/news/arts-gcse-entries-decline-in-england/
This long-term trend will have been accompanied by a decline in the number of teachers employed to teach these subjects. As teachers leave, posts may not have been replaced - perhaps helping secondary schools to 'balance their budgets' but certainly making the trend much harder to reverse.

The damage being inflicted on children, teachers and schools by excessive workload and high-stakes testing is clear to anyone who genuinely understands education. The question is, what can be done about it?

Anna-Christina Connelly has a point when she says that "It’s up to Schools, not the Government, to protect new teachers from workload". Certainly, if more school leaders had had the courage to stand firm instead of simply passing on the pressure from Government onto their staff, then workload would not have reached such intolerable levels. However, it's hard for a school to stand up alone - what's needed is for schools and their staff to stand firm together. The best way to ensure that happens is through trade union action.

July 5 saw another well-supported national strike by NUT members. Anger against workload was, as the NUT's surveying has confirmed, one of the main factors that mobilised teachers to join the action.
 

July's NUT National Executive agreed that the national campaign on funding and workload obviously has to continue this academic year but that the NUT will also develop a campaign on primary assessment alongside other unions, parents and other campaign organisations. The NAHT General Secretary has already been quoted in the TES confirming that "a boycott remains a possibility for 2017 if discussions with the government are not fruitful".

So it's soon going to be 'back to school' but it can't be back to 'business as usual'. NUT members need to build our campaign against funding cuts, excessive workload and the Government's damaging testing regime, locally and nationally.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

NUT strike: march and rally in London

On Tuesday, July 5, NUT members across England will be participating in a day of strike action to demonstrate their concerns about the Government’s plans to reduce funding for education, and its consequences for children’s learning and for teachers’ terms and conditions.

Members in London will be gathering for a march to Parliament Square.


March Details

Assembly: 11am in Portland Place, London W1A 1AA (outside the BBC)
March: 12 noon to Westminster through Central London. Route.


Rally Details

Time/Venue: 1.30pm in Parliament Square.
Speakers:
Kevin Courtney, National Union of Teachers
Madeleine Holt, Rescue Our Schools
Striking teachers
Speakers from Unison, UCU
Aislinn Macklin-Doherty (BMA junior doctor)
More TBC


Information about other rallies around the country can be found here.


Kevin Courtney, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:


“The NUT is aware that strike action can be disruptive to parents and carers and for that we wholeheartedly apologise. Equally, teachers do not take strike action lightly. The problems facing education, however, are too great to be ignored and we know many parents share our concerns.


“The strike is about the underfunding of our schools and the negative impact it is having on children’s education and teacher’s terms and conditions. Schools are facing the worst cuts in funding since the 1970s. The decisions which head teachers have to make are damaging to our children and young people’s education. Class sizes going up, school trips reduced, materials and resources reduced, and subjects – particularly in the arts – are being removed from the curriculum. Teaching posts are being cut or not filled when staff leave. All of this just to balance the books.


“No parent wants this for their children. No teacher wants this for their school or pupils. With political parties in turmoil since the EU referendum, it is imperative that education is put to the forefront of every election campaign. The problems schools face need addressing immediately. We must not let the education of the next generation be side lined.”


Our earlier statement confirming the strike and ballot result is available here: https://www.teachers.org.uk/news-events/press-releases-england/nut-ballot-result

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Refugees, Racism and the EU Referendum


“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new is yet to be born. So, in between both, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, c.1930. 


My contribution to the Savaş ve Mülteciler (War & Refugees) panel debate being held today as part of the Day-Mer Festival of Peace and Hope 2016.

There is huge turmoil in Britain following the 'Leave' victory in Thursday’s EU referendum – but it’s just part of the global turmoil of a capitalist world in crisis, a system that offers the majority of the world’s population only inequality, poverty, war and insecurity, a system that destroys people’s lives and then tries to scapegoat its victims – not least the millions forced to flee their homes as refugees.

The UNHCR have just released their latest Global Trends report. They estimate 65.3 million people were displaced from their homes by conflict and persecution in 2015. That’s 1 in every 113 of us.

Yet it is the major powers within the UN that bear the main responsibility. Of those who fled to Greece, 85% have come from war-torn Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. Historically, it was Britain and France that drew up most of the boundaries of many of today's Middle East states. Then, along with US imperialism, they worked to make sure their local allies and agents kept control. Oil and weapon companies have especially profited from this region. That includes trading with their supposed ISIS ‘enemy’. As usual for big business, profit comes before human or democratic rights.

The global financiers have created a world of chaos and misery to which they have no solutions. However, as Gramsci described above from a previous time of crisis, we also live in a world where the forces of solidarity do not yet have the strength to provide an alternative, socialist, solution. In the interim, we face a time of uncertainty but a time when a new world can, and must, be born.

In the aftermath of the EU vote, and the publicity being given to right-wing Brexiteers like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, then there is undoubtedly fear amongst migrant communities and many trade unionists, certainly many NUT members, that the future will be fuelled by increasing reaction and racism.

This is not just a danger in Britain. For example, there has been a growth of the far right throughout the Nordic countries including a wave of arson attacks on refugee centres in Sweden. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party candidate came within a whisker of being elected President this April. In Germany, the right-wing nationalist AfD made major gains in the state elections in March.

However, that is only one side of the equation. Yesterday, there was a general strike in Belgium against draconian austerity measures inspired by EU directives ordering increased ‘flexibility’ in the job market – in other words, cutting benefits and imposing longer hours to boost bosses’ profits. This is alongside the similar heroic struggle of the French workers against the El Khomri law where last week the police appealed to the CGT union to stop their months of ongoing protests because they were too exhausted to keep up!

Over this weekend elections are taking place in Spain where the Left is predicted to make big gains – a Left which, by the way, learning from the experience of Greece, is moving to a position of socialist opposition to the EU.

In Britain - as in Austria and Germany - there is conflict and debate over how much the election and referendum results point to an increase in reactionary ideas, ideas which threaten refugees and migrant communities. It would certainly be naive not to accept that some of those voting 'Leave' or voting for far-right parties were not expressing racist views. Yes, particularly in the absence of a clear alternative view being heard, some workers will be taken in by the scapegoating of refugees and migrants.
The risk is magnified when traditional workers’ parties fail to offer an alternative vision or to lead a fight against the neo-liberal attacks – in fact, they are too often leading those attacks.

However, again that only looks at one side of the equation. All of those votes represented, above all, a burning anger at  years of enforced austerity and growing inequality between rich and poor. Workers have taken the chance to put two-fingers up to the establishment politicians. As one woman explained to a Guardian journalist, "If you've got money, you vote in ... if you haven't got money, you vote out" 

In such a time of turmoil then community organisations, like Day-Mer, and trade unions, like the NUT, have a heavy responsibility to make sure that anger is directed into united opposition to the attacks on living standards and public services. The NUT’s national strike on July 5 is now even more important. It can become a day to focus attention on the real attacks we face – particularly on the threatened cuts to school and Local Authority budgets. The cuts will, of course, threaten what little support exists for refugee children in particular. 

We have to point out that, when the Tories say they have no money for schools, homes and the NHS, the Governor of the Bank of England was able to rush out an emergency announcement yesterday telling the City that he had made available £250 billion of liquidity to support the markets – not millions but billions! Let’s be in no doubt, the money is there but, as always, it’s a question of who really produces that wealth and who has control of it.

Regrettably, there have been some who have been quick to condemn workers who voted ‘Leave’ as somehow being stupid or inherently reactionary. No, working peoples’ traditions have always been to unite in common struggle. It was the public outcry at the pictures of the drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi that helped to force EU politicians to change tack and relax border controls.

Of course, that did not last long and the EU leaders soon switched to the shabby deal with Turkey to try and stop the flow of refugees, cruelly dismantling the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece. Thousands more are still drowning in the Mediterranean while wars and poverty continue to force families to flee their homes. As just the latest example, the EU has just imposed a new round of ‘structural reforms' on Tunisia in return for a 500 million euro loan. More refugees will be created from the poverty and conflict that will result.

The EU and big business will only ever look on the rights of refugees and the movement of labour as a financial calculation. Back in August, the president of the German Federation of Industry (BDI) called for more asylum seekers to be accepted into Germany. For humanitarian reasons? No, because the German population is falling and is getting, on average, older. So German employers want more migrants, certainly skilled and professional workers. The German labour minister was absolutely clear: “we will profit from this too because we need immigration”. In turn, the BBC economics editor reported British businesspeople complaining “that Merkel is creaming off the most economically useful of the asylum seekers”.

Refugees can, of course, also become a new source of cheap labour, undercutting the already low levels of wages. Historically, the labour movement has always responded by fighting for workers’ unity, for every worker to be paid the rate for the job, for all workers to be fighting alongside each other in trade unions – and we must do so again. Just in the last few weeks there has been the example of Polish drivers being turned back by striking Polish members of the BFAWU at Pennine Foods. Migrant bus cleaners fighting for months of unpaid wages in Athens also won a victory after getting solid support from Greek trade union activists.

The far-right also play on the fears of workers who see their schools, health and other public services being cut and see their families suffering from the acute housing crisis. They want to use the old trick of ‘divide-and-rule’ to stop the anger of the 99% uniting against the 1%. That's why, to counter that threat, alongside demands in defence of refugees and the right of asylum, the trade union movement must also raise clear demands for jobs, schools and homes for all.

We have to explain that when the wealthy EU, with a population of 500 million, says it cannot cope with supporting a million or so refugees then it is, in reality, condemning its own neo-liberal policies as being incapable of providing decent living standards. There are an estimated eleven million empty homes in the EU, enough to solve the housing crisis of existing citizens as well as to house those fleeing war and poverty from outside the EU. Similarly, here in London there are an estimated 75,000 empty residential properties mostly owned by speculators who buy them solely to make a profit. Requisitioning them alone could house both London’s homeless and provide homes for thousands of refugee families as well.

Instead of leaving decisions about asylum in the hands of the Tories or other right-wing EU politicians, working people should be able to review and grant asylum. I would be confident that, once the truth of the plight of families are heard, then the traditions of working class solidarity would welcome those refugees and demand they are housed and supported in our communities. Teachers and schools would be to the fore in providing that support too.

Above all, we have to show that refugees and migrants are not responsible for endless austerity. Those that continue to profit out of war and misery should pay for the problems they have created, here and internationally.

We live in testing times, in times when sometimes the problems and threats loom large and the solutions seem out of our reach. However, let’s take confidence from the fact that this turmoil exists because of the failings of the 1%, and that they, above all, are divided and uncertain. Cameron gambled on the referendum and lost both the vote and his job. The Financial Times are describing the referendum as a ‘pitchfork moment’’ as they correctly glimpse the seething anger against the establishment that lay behind the 'Leave' result.


To condemn the mass of those workers who voted 'Leave' as fundamentally reactionary would be a huge mistake and one that would help the racists and far-right succeed in dividing workers against each other. It would also show a lack of appreciation of the EU's own role in imposing austerity and keeping workers divided. Let’s organise so the justified anger against the political elites, inside and outside the EU, can be directed into a united movement against war and poverty and to defend the rights of refugees and all workers struggling for a better future.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Defend pay and conditions, stand up for education, strike and rally on 5 July!


A message to teachers:

Over the last few weeks, thousands of NUT members have been voting in our national ballot to defend school funding and teachers’ terms and conditions. 

The result of that ballot has now been declared: an overwhelming 91.7% majority of the votes returned were in support of taking strike action. In response, the NUT’s National Executive has therefore backed a first day of strike action on Tuesday 5 July.

The Government’s proposed cuts to school funding – especially here in London – threaten job losses, even greater workload and teachers losing out on pay progression. They also threaten the educational opportunities of the children you teach. 

 
That’s why I am calling on members to support the Union’s strike call so that, together, we can make a stand to demand:

* increased funding to schools and education,
* guaranteed terms and conditions in all types of schools, 
* resumed negotiations on teacher contracts to allow workload to be addressed.

Please also help us make the biggest impact we can on the day by joining teaching colleagues, governors and parents on our March and Rally for Education on 5 July:
11 am - assemble in Portland Place, London W1A 1AA (outside the BBC)
12 noon - march to Westminster through central London
1:30pm - rally in Parliament Square


Do you want to know more? - listen to Kevin Courtney:



A message to parents:

The NUT are taking action to defend teachers' terms and conditions but, in doing so, we are taking action to defend children's education.

With so many teachers being driven out of the profession by excessive workload - exacerbated in the capital by the cost of housing - schools already face a recruitment crisis. 

To make things worse, schools now also face significant spending cuts. In London, budgets could be cut by as much as 20% over the next few years. That would have to mean staffing cuts, bigger class sizes and less support for children - as well as cuts to teachers' pay, terms and conditions.

The Government has, predictably, already accused the NUT of 'playing politics'. No, we regret the disruption that our action will inevitably cause to parents on the day, but it is the politics of this Government that are causing the permanent damage through worsening morale, rising teacher shortages, budget cuts and forced academisation. We hope our action can help persuade the Government to think again.

I would appeal to parents to join us in our March for Education on July 5th so that, together, we can Stand Up For Education.

 Do you want to know more? - listen to my interview on BBC Radio London tonight:



Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Ten reasons to oppose Multi Academy Trusts

I have drafted a document on behalf of the NUT to help teachers and other anti-academy campaigners explain why we must oppose the setting-up of 'MATs' - Multi Academy Trusts. Others may suggest amendments or additions but I thought it worth sharing now to make sure that the information is available as quickly as possible. 

A pdf version can be downloaded here


As opposition to forced academisation grows across the political spectrum, why would London Councils encourage MATs?
Ever since March, when the Conservative Government released its misnamed White Paper, ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, there has been growing opposition from across the political spectrum to their plans to force academisation on England’s schools (1). That opposition is based on an increasing volume of research showing academies are not improving educational outcomes.

In parliamentary debate, even Conservative MPs spoke out against the plans. As Steve Brine, MP for Winchester, explained, “local teachers are confused about why something that is so obviously not broken needs fixing” (2).  A number of Local Authorities have passed motions opposing the White Paper including the country’s largest Council, Birmingham. As one of their Councillors explained, “If there was any impact academisation worked I would do it tomorrow to all of our schools. [But] there is no evidence. What the White Paper proposes is spending millions on changing structures without changing a single life.” (3).

In London, Islington Labour Group has launched a petition opposing forced academisation saying that this “is another top-down reorganisation that will not help young people in Islington get the education they need” (4) . That kind of initiative, reaching out to Londoners to stand together for education, can help defeat forced academisation and the proposed cuts to school budgets too. Yet, regrettably, it seems that a number of London Labour Councils are exploring plans to develop Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) and in some cases considering actively encouraging their formation.
This document gives ten clear reasons why Councils should not be pursuing academisation or supporting the setting up of MATs but should be adding their support to the growing opposition to the Government’s plans.

1.   There are no educational advantages to Multi Academy Trusts
“It is now widely recognised that ‘academisation’, and the competitive system it is intended to encourage, has had no discernible impact on standards. Whatever the real arguments for academies, they cannot be based on an assertion that academisation will ‘drive up’ standards” (5).
The facts are increasingly beyond dispute. Even Schools Minister Nick Gibb has conceded that “this government does not believe that all academies and free schools are necessarily better than maintained schools.” (6). The recently updated NUT “EduFacts”on ‘Academy Status, Pupil Attainment and School Improvement’ lists just some of the evidence confirming that “there is no credible evidence that conversion to academy status improves pupil attainment in national tests and exams, supports pupil progress or leads to school improvement” (7). For example:
·       In January 2015, the all-Party House of Commons Education Committee concluded that: “We have sought but not found convincing evidence of the impact of academy status on attainment in primary schools” and that “it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children”.
·       Henry Stewart’s analysis of 2015 results data showed that sponsored primary academies’ results increased at a slower rate than similar non-academies and that sponsored secondary academies are also improving at a consistently slower rate than similar local authority schools.
·       Analysis of DfE data released under a Freedom of Information request in July 2015 showed that a school rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted was almost four times more likely to remain ‘inadequate’ at its next inspection if it became a sponsored academy than if it remained a maintained school.
‘EduFacts’ also points to specific evidence questioning the effectiveness of Multi Academy Trusts:
·       A report by the consultancy PwC, published on 9 May 2016, completely contradicts the Government’s claims about the effectiveness of MATs. It revealed that only three of the 16 largest secondary academy chains could demonstrate a positive impact on pupils’ progress, while just one of the 26 largest primary sponsors produced results above the national average.
·       The Sutton Trust has produced two reports looking at the impact of academy chains on low income students in secondary sponsored academies: Chain Effects (an analysis of 2013 GCSE results published in 2014) and Chain Effects 2015 (an analysis of 2014 results). Both reports found “very significant” variation in outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, both between and within chains. In 2013 only 16 out of 31 chains exceeded the improvement for disadvantaged pupils in 5 A*-C GCSEs including English and maths for all mainstream schools. The report also concluded that “far from providing a solution to disadvantage, a few chains may be exacerbating it”.  The 2015 report indicated a worsening situation concluding that the “contrast between the best and worst chains has increased in 2014”.
If decisions are going to be made about the future of our schools, surely they should be made on educational grounds? However, in that case, there are no good reasons to encourage academies.

2.   MATs threaten the break-up of comprehensive education
“There is no evidence base to support this claim [that ‘academisation’ will drive up standards]. So why the drive to academisation? The answer lies in understanding that academisation is not about quality education for all but about a fundamental transformation of the English school system whereby public schools are transferred into private hands ... The process is initially gradual as individual schools are forced to become academy schools and in due course all schools are drawn into Multi-Academy Trusts. In turn these Trusts become larger and larger.” (8).
Government policy is not based on evidence, rather on ideology. There are clear similarities between the attempts to introduce market-based ‘reforms’ to the National Health Service and the academisation of schools. Few politicians would risk being seen to be supporting privatisation of the NHS, so shouldn’t London’s politicians and elected councillors feel the same about education? 
Allowing such a politically-inspired policy to take any greater hold on education could prove disastrous for the future of education, as the failed ‘Free School’ experiment in Sweden shows (9). Sweden’s development of publicly-funded but privately-run Free Schools was originally praised by Michael Gove as evidence for his own Free School and Academy policies. However, it has caused Sweden’s position in the international ‘PISA’ educational rankings to plummet more sharply than that of any other participating country. This is what happens when you base policy on ideology, and on meeting the interests of education businesses and academy chains, rather than evidence. So why would any London Councils want to repeat those mistakes at the expense of our children?
Sweden’s failed policy also led to widening inequality, confirming that when schools are encouraged to compete with each other in a marketised system, the most disadvantaged young people are likely to lose out most of all.  Unfortunately, we already see evidence of similar trends under school academisation. Last year, the Office of the Schools Adjudicator reported their concerns about how schools in charge of their own admissions policies – most of whom are academies – can manipulate procedures to their own advantage. In the words of Richard Garner of the Independent, “academies are selecting by stealth by making their admission rules so complex that parents fail to understand them” (10).  A report drafted by the “Centre for High-Performance” describing the lessons from 160 UK academies on how best to ‘turn around a failing school’ states bluntly that academies should “exclude poor quality students, improve admissions” (11). 
There are particular concerns about how academies will support children with SEND, particularly if Local Authority support services no longer exist as a result of mass academisation.  A joint statement from AEP/ATL/NAHT/NUT/Unison explains how this would “fragment still further access to local authority support services, such as support for disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs, and weaken local co-ordination of education provision. This is likely to have a particular impact on disadvantaged or vulnerable children and those with SEND” (12).
In short, encouraging MATs allows, at best, individual MATs to ‘game’ the admissions system to their own benefit. At worst, it threatens the future of comprehensive education in London.

3.   Encouraging MATs risks all schools being forced into academies
“The government will bring forward legislation which will trigger conversion of all schools within a local authority in two specific circumstances: firstly, where it is clear that the local authority can no longer viably support its remaining schools because a critical mass of schools in that area has converted ... secondly, where the local authority consistently fails to meet a minimum performance threshold across its schools” (13).
Under pressure from the widespread opposition to their White Paper proposals, the Government has been forced to announce a change in the way they intend to achieve their goal of full academisation. The Education for All Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May reiterated the Government’s determination to move “towards a system where every school is an academy” but now its chosen route will be “through powers to convert schools to academies in under-performing and unviable local authorities” (14) .
In the light of these proposals, Local Authorities need to consider carefully what the effect of encouraging the development of MATs will mean to their ‘viability’.  The DfE has not yet spelt out how an ‘unviable authority’ would be defined, although it’s likely to be set in a way that assists its goal of full academisation by 2022. An initial analysis by the Think Tank ‘Centre Forum’ shows that if the threshold for ‘viability’ was set as being 60 per cent of pupils remaining in Local Authority schools, then more than half of the total number of LAs would be declared ‘unviable’ already (15) .
So, under the latest Government proposals, even a small amount of additional academisation could see the whole Local Authority being declared as ‘unviable’, meaning every single one of its schools would be forced into becoming an academy.  This would include all of its primary schools, where a large majority are likely to still be maintained schools. By encouraging MATs, Councils are not only helping the Government to reach its goal, they put every one of its schools at risk of conversion.
4.   Encouraging MATs doesn’t avoid budget cuts, it makes things worse
“There are likely to be significant costs to the Council in meeting the duty to facilitate the process of converting schools to academies, at present there is no information that additional funding will be granted for this” (Tower Hamlets Cabinet Paper May 2016) (16) .
London schools already face severe cuts to their budgets under the combined impact of rising costs, especially for Teachers Pensions and National Insurance contributions, and the predicted effects of the proposed National Funding Formula. NUT figures suggest they will mean an overall 12% cut to London school budgets by 2020 but the cuts could be over 20% in some Inner London boroughs (17).
Firstly, it’s important that schools considering academisation recognise that academies will be hit just as hard by these cuts as maintained schools. In fact, without the ‘economies of scale’ available to LAs, academies may well be hit worst of all. Joining a MAT does not solve the problem.
There’s another reason why joining a MAT might mean a cut in the resources being spent on teaching and learning. That’s because there is increasing evidence of a growing layer of well-paid bureaucracy within academy chains taking resources away from where they are most needed. As one Headteacher put it in the TES recently, "we see even smallish multi-academy trusts with chief executives earning more – sometimes much more – than the prime minister. We see chains employing small armies of pinstriped executives who talk of standards but rarely set foot in a classroom to teach a lesson they have prepared themselves” (18) .
Secondly, any Local Authority contemplating encouraging MATs needs to recognise that the legal costs of each academy conversion, and the consequent land transfer that goes with it, will also use up resources that they won’t have the budget to meet. The exact shortfall that LAs may face is still being debated but, as Tower Hamlets warns above, the costs are still likely to be considerable (19).
Surely, instead of promoting an academisation agenda that will further cut into resources and only alienate many parents and staff opposed to the Government’s academy plans, Local Authorities should be working together with communities to defeat the threatened cuts to school budgets?

5.   Why the ‘jump before we are pushed’ argument doesn’t hold water
“The first job we have as Labour Councillors is to get the message out that these changes are not inevitable and governing bodies should not rush to convert”.  (Letter from Leader of LGA Group) (20) .
There can be no getting away from the fact that supporting schools to become MATs means helping the Government to succeed in its plans to academise schools . Those damaging plans are not inevitable and can be defeated. The ‘let’s jump before we are pushed’ argument must be opposed.
Those who argue that, by acting first to set up ‘home-grown’ MATs, Local Authorities can somehow protect themselves from a ‘hostile takeover’, need to look at the legislation. The truth is that, after conversion, a Local Authority will cease to have any real influence on the direction a MAT takes and nor will the individual schools within a MAT.  When schools join MATs they cease to exist as separate legal entities. Decisions are taken centrally by those who control the MAT - the members (akin to company shareholders) and Trustees (akin to company Directors). There can be no guarantee that any MAT will act according to the wishes of the Local Authority.
Even if a local MAT continues to work cooperatively with the Local Authority, then that relationship can easily be changed by the intervention of the unelected Regional Schools Commissioner. Even if the RSC were to approve a local schools MAT in the first instance, schools can be removed and 'rebrokered' with an external sponsor (21). The White Paper states clearly that ‘at the heart of [our] approach will be supporting the strongest schools and sponsors to expand their reach’ (22). In other words, small ‘home-grown’ MATs could quickly become part of much larger academy chains.
Once in a MAT, there is no going back and a school has no protection against what may happen to it in the future. Its best protection lies in remaining maintained and working within the local family of schools with the Local Authority brokering support where required.

6.   MATs leave parents and communities without a say in education
“We will expect all governing boards to focus on seeking people with the right skills for governance, and so we will no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”. ( ‘Educational, Excellence, Everywhere’, page 51 )
The White Paper is absolutely clear that there will be no requirement on Multi Academy Trusts to include parent governors, far less staff governors representing its workforce. In fact, Trustees do not even have to decide to establish local governing bodies within their constituent schools at all. The E-ACT academy chain has just announced that they will be abolishing local governing bodies in favour of one single central governing body covering all of the chain’s schools (23). Where they do establish school governing bodies, it is for the Trustees to decide what powers, if any, to delegate.
Elected parent and LA appointed governors sit on the governing body of all community schools and can take up parents’ concerns. Councillors themselves can be lobbied and, in the final analysis, voted out of office. Encouraging MATs means removing that local democratic accountability.
7.   Schools need to work in partnership – but MATs don’t provide it
“The evidence that the London Challenge was a successful approach to school improvement is overwhelming. It was also comparatively cheap; over three years the funding for City Challenge was £160 million, considerably cheaper than the £8.5 billion reportedly spent on the academies’ programme over two years” ( Professor Merryn Hutchings) (24) .
One argument being put forward for encouraging MATs is that it will encourage schools to work in partnership, particularly now Local Authorities are to lose both the funding and responsibility to support school improvement. However, for the reasons described above, MATs are no guarantee that schools will work together across an Authority for the benefit of all. Instead, MATs will be driven by their own interests in the competitive environment created by Government policy, particularly with the pressure of new ‘MAT performance tables’ (see Chapter 7 of the White Paper).
There are many other models that could be explored for creating genuine partnership, and a number of London Authorities are looking at various approaches. However, any such approach does not require encouraging Multi Academy Trusts. Instead, Local Authorities should focus on cost-effective and proven school improvement initiatives, such as local partnerships and federations or larger scale interventions such as the successful London Challenge programme. Significantly, a 2014 National Audit Office report, Academies and maintained schools: Oversight and intervention (25) found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion. 
The NUT has produced its own evidence into successful partnership working which was submitted to the Education Committee Inquiry into School Partnerships and Cooperation in 2013. It concluded that “the most successful partnerships involve all the key partners in education and characterised by a bottom-up approach to developing the real collaborative arrangements that are most suited to the local context. The most successful school partnerships are driven at a local level, are flexible, involve all local schools, engage the whole community around a shared vision, provide support and challenge without stigmatising weaker schools, work with families of schools, involve a degree of experimentation, develop organically according to local need and circumstance and are based on the notion of trust in teachers and school leaders”. Any such partnerships must be built inclusively.

8.   Encouraging MATs ignores the real priorities like teacher shortages
“The plans are indicative of a Government with the wrong priorities for education. The proposals in the white paper will do nothing to address - and may in fact worsen - teacher shortages, a lack of school places in many parts of the country, chaos over curriculum and assessment changes  and funding pressures in schools and colleges” (NUT Model Council Motion for Local Authorities) (26) .
The White Paper completely ignores the real issues facing education; in fact it will make them worse. The same will be true if Local Authorities pursue the development of Multi Academy Trusts instead of concentrating on the real issues, not least teacher shortages in London.
Increased academisation is a direct threat to the national pay and conditions of teachers and other school staff. By encouraging MATs in their area, Local Authorities will only be accelerating that break-up of national conditions. They are also likely to make their schools a less attractive prospect for teachers to seek employment than other authorities who are not pursuing such academisation.
9.   Councils should not have to rely on MATs for new school places
“The Government’s academy and free school policy has prevented councils from opening local authority schools where they are most needed. We call on the next Mayor and London Assembly to champion local councils regaining the power and the funding to open new schools” (from the NUT’s ‘London Manifesto’ 2016) (27).
There is no doubt that Local Authorities across London face significant difficulties in meeting the demand for new school places. Without the power to open new community schools themselves, some of the arguments in favour of setting up MATs are undoubtedly linked to the idea that these MATs could then be used as vehicles to allow the opening of new free schools in their authorities.
However, the NUT believes that this would be a very short-sighted policy.  For all the reasons outlined above, Local Authorities should resist the Government’s attempts to be bullied into accepting a ‘Free School’ academy as the only way to provide funding for new school places. Not only is this damaging to education as a whole, it also accepts the Government agenda that sub-standard accommodation can be used for education. As the New Schools Network explains, “one of the aims of the policy is to deliver better value for money in education by providing innovative solutions to the challenge of finding new school premises. Already, Free Schools have been opened in former hospitals, office buildings, job centres, church halls and other types of buildings” (28). Instead, the campaign needs to be stepped-up for Local Authorities to have both the power and the funding to open new schools, as demanded by the NUT in our London Manifesto. 
10.         Encouraging MATs will alienate parents and school staff
Finally, Local Authorities need to consider the strength of opposition to the White Paper, opposition which has already mean that Nicky Morgan has had to rethink her plans. A political choice can be made to lead that opposition, linking with parents, staff, unions and the wider community in opposing forced academisation and demanding that the resources are provided to genuinely meet needs. The alternative of encouraging MATs will only alienate parents and school staff and see the Local Authority being seen as agents of damaging Government policies. The choice is surely clear.