John Roan Resists: Kick-starting a community campaign

Fighting against the academisation of a London school, by Colin Revolting with Juliana J.

Recipe for a community campaign:

  • Ingredients: a small group of parents and teachers passionate about comprehensive education.
  • Mix them together in a pub or similar receptacle.
  • Whisk up ways to spread the word of ‘academisation’ of their school – i.e. word of mouth, leafleting, press releases, Facebook page, Twitter etc. Be as creative as possible.
  • Raise the campaign profile with a small story in the local paper (good for reaching out to parents not in campaign’s ‘networks’).
  • Take the campaign to the local town hall (for one hour only) to question the councillors.
  • Source info and inspiration from previous campaigns.
  • Make the front page of the local paper with huge photo of the group with home made banners.
  • Decorate a cold community hall, fill it with a hundred more people who care passionately about comprehensive education, mix in speakers from successful campaign, raise questions, discuss, plan and you have… the John Roan Resists – No to Academies campaign.

Greenwich council in South East London could be among the first Labour councils to open up all their schools to the ‘academisation process’ – namely the giving away of our schools to be run as businesses answerable only to their Board of Directors… sorry, Governors.

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David Cameron wants all schools to become academies by 2020. But rather than stand by comprehensive education, the council’s Chair of Children’s Services, says schools should avoid being forced into academies in the future by becoming an academy now.

“Jump, rather than be pushed,” is how many people have expressed this approach. But those people also know enough about what we would be jumping into to be hesitant at least or downright opposed.

Neither the government, nor the council, nor the school governors have given any educational advantages for such a change – for the simple reason that there aren’t any. Academic performance of students in academies is certainly no better than in comprehensive schools and in many cases is worse. Stories are appearing almost daily in TES and Schools Week exposing failing academies.

So if the students aren’t set to benefit from the process then who stands to gain?

One group who have already benefited massively from the process are the managers and head teachers whose salaries have shot up, alongside opportunities to feather their nests. Wider still, this process opens up the field of education even further to business interests. That, and an ideological contempt for the welfare state, is clearly the driving force for the government.

At the public meeting there was an informative powerpoint presentation from John Roan School’s sixth formers about academies, designed for a school assembly. Shamefully the presentation was prevented from happening at the school. One manager told me this was because, “No pupil in favour of academies could be found so the presentation would be unbalanced.” I said that I was glad they didn’t apply the same criteria to the recent Holocaust Memorial presentation. He replied, “That isn’t happening in the school.”

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Inspiring speakers came from Lewisham and Hove schools where campaigns successfully stopped schools becoming academies. The Hove Not Gove speaker Natasha Steel said that their school is re-energised and vibrant as a consequence of the campaign. Parents, teachers and community members spoke persuasively about the reasons our school should not become an academy, showing the awareness that has developed in the community of the dangers of academisation.

The school’s two local Labour councillors were at the meeting and, impressed by the size and the arguments, they showed their support for the campaign. We called on them to support a binding parental ballot before any school becomes an academy, which was a crucial part of the Hove school’s campaign.

This meeting was created by parents and teachers who also started an online petition which already has over 1300 signatures.

Since the meeting many parents have emailed the local MP and he announced on Friday that he was “absolutely clear that I fully support a parental ballot.”

The campaign is growing and reaching out to wider sections of the community including parents who were not able to attend the meeting. The teachers and support staff at the school are extremely stressed, demoralised and aggravated.

Many of them were at the campaign meeting and explained that only the day before restructuring had been announced at the school which would lead to around 10% redundancies. This would result in removing or weakening of subjects not considered core curriculum meaning a narrower educational provision less suited to student needs. The management strangely also seemed to be saying that low staff turnover is a problem as more experienced teachers cost more.

These redundancies are notably targeting the school’s National Union of Teachers (NUT) representatives. These union reps played a crucial role in supporting teachers opposing the management’s attacks in the autumn when they ended up taking two days of action until the managers stepped back.

Parents and supporters for the John Roan Resists campaign have given leaflets to pupils at the school gate (due to being denied access to the school’s mailing list) and have also collected signatures to a petition from parents attending a parents evening at the school, where the overwhelming response by parents has been against academies. Campaign members took a deputation to the local council challenging this move to give away the schools.

When campaign members leafleted and petitioned at a parents meeting this week a group of sixth formers were handing out their own leaflet explaining how the redundancies are going to affect their education. As one of them said to me, “For five years at this school I have been taught that when something is wrong I should say so.”

Petitions and rumours of protests have flown round the school like pigeons trapped in a building. A group of sixth formers planned a walk out from lessons. The management thought organising a special assembly about International Women’s Day would wrong foot the protest but students knew the management had called it a day late – having ignored IWD on their weekly Tuesday assembly. 50 sixth formers left their lessons and had an hour long public ‘revision session’ in the school entrance hall. The senior managers tried to intimidate them back to lessons but soon realised the students resolve was strong. Managers had to engage with the students for the whole hour being challenged and debated with.

With a two day strike looming, the week looked like ending with two fairly stormy meetings where the Governors and school managers deflected students’ and parents’ questions and challenges and refused to guarantee they would not be moving to academisation of the school.

Photo credit: John Roads Student Union.

Photo credit: John Roads Student Union.

The next morning the head put in writing that there would be no decision on academisation of the school in this academic year. “…the threat of strike action by the NUT has forced a significant retreat,” as the NUT said. The strike was called off and campaigners celebrated the success in the knowledge it was the action of teachers, students, parents and the community WOT WON IT!

But of course the restructuring and redundancies still stand and will do serious damage to the school. Deleting of 17 teaching posts and 7 support staff will lead to worse pastoral care, less subjects offered, and larger classes. In many ways this is the beginning of a academisation process in all but name and thankfully the NUT have begun the process of balloting on action to stop it after Easter.

The location of John Roan school is only a couple of miles away from where, over 3 years ago, local people kick-started another community campaign. That was to Save Lewisham Hospital’s A&E and it grew and grew and won an important victory.

John Roan Resists: facebook.com/johnroanresists/

There are 3 comments

  1. Mark Winn

    The John Roan Foundation owns several properties in Greenwich and Charlton, which it lets out for considerable monthly profit. Now, I wonder why the school is claiming to be short of money?

  2. Debaser

    Mark Winn should know, as an ex-teacher of the John Roan, that the Foundation and the School are two entirely different entities. And, if he and other people want to find out why the school is short of money, maybe they could ask the previous headteacher. There are a lot of lies being peddled, and none of them are coming from the school.

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