Why defending teachers who work in academies is not betraying the Labour Party | @oldandrewuk

photo (10)Andrew is a teacher and editor of Labour Teachers (and writing in a personal capacity). 

You may recall that last week, when we ran out of posts – we are still a bit short of posts now, if you’d like to write for us –  I wrote a post called “Stop Demonising Academies” about some of the rhetoric being used in response to the government’s plans to force all schools to become academies. I started by making it clear that I don’t support those plans:

The government’s plan to make all schools convert to academy status over the next 6 years is an example of the sort of policy-making that gives politicians a bad name. It creates huge disruption and uncertainty without having any clear benefits.

I then complained about the willingness of some on the left to talk as if all academies were behaving badly, and to be completely indifferent to what those accusations might feel like to those teachers working in academies. I gave two examples of that rhetoric, neither of which came from official Labour sources, although one of them was shared on Twitter by Lucy Powell, the shadow education secretary. I did not defend forced academisation and I did not oppose Labour policy.

The post got one of the most positive responses I have ever had to anything I’ve written on here. It very quickly became our top rated post of 2016, mainly through being shared by teachers on social media. It turns out there’s quite a few teachers working in academies, or other types of schools that are being demonised for not being LA controlled, who felt the same way I did. No teacher likes being told they are less caring than other teachers just because they work at a type of school somebody has an ideological grievance about.

I was reassured though, that when the post was brought to the attention of Lucy Powell on Twitter, she distanced herself from that rhetoric, denying a claim that Labour’s response to white paper has been “relentlessly anti academy”, saying:

that’s not come from us… we’ve always reiterate[d] that many academies are good or outstanding. Read my speeches & comments.

Which brings us to yesterday, and the following exchange during education questions:

Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)This weekend, the Conservative-led County Councils Network added its very strong opposition to the Secretary of State’s plans to force all schools to become academies, adding to that already expressed by the National Association of Head Teachers, the Association of School and College Leaders, parents, the National Governors Association, leading names in the academies programme such as the chief executive of the Harris Foundation and the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools National Association, as well as a growing number of her own Back Benchers. It is hardly a list of what she might call—or, in fact, what she just called—the vested interests. Can she therefore clarify today for those who have these very serious concerns whether she will bring forward legislation to force good and outstanding schools to become academies against their wishes?

Nicky Morgan I have already set out very clearly our desire to make sure that every child gets the best start in life. We believe that academies, as the House has heard from other Conservative Members, are absolutely the right vehicle for innovation on curriculum, pay and freedom for headteachers. I wonder whether the hon. Lady in her vocal opposition has taken account of the writer on the Labour teachers blog, who said that

“we have people on the left describing thousands of schools, in fact a majority of secondary schools, and the hundreds of thousands of teachers who work in them, in terms that are so unjust as to be deceitful.”

Is that how the hon. Lady wants to be taken?

Mr Speaker Order. I simply point out to the Secretary of State that she is not responsible for what is written on Labour blogs and that there is a shortage of time on topical questions. We must press on, without extraneous matters being introduced.

I was not particularly pleased to be quoted as if I was talking about Lucy Powell, although, to be fair to Nicky Morgan, she did phrase that part as a question. The immediate social media response was predictable. Not for the first time Labour Teachers was attacked for failing to censor ideologically impure contributions, for claiming to speak for the party (we don’t) and for disagreeing with party policy (I didn’t). Despite the positive reaction  to the original article from so many Labour supporting teachers, people who may have never been inside an academy told me that I had betrayed the party by daring to suggest that myself, my colleagues, and 1000s of other teachers working in academies are not evil. That Lucy Powell had denied the party had an anti-academies position seemed irrelevant to those convinced that to oppose such a position was to attack the party. Nor was the fact that I am a teacher working in an academy considered relevant, the only possible agenda behind my post was that I was a Blairite attacking Jeremy Corbyn and I should be stopped.

Obviously this changes nothing for us. The Labour Teachers blog will still be open to all Labour supporting teachers. Posts will still only represent the author, not the party, nor any organisation called “Labour Teachers”. We still exist to allow debate among Labour supporting teachers. The extra irony here is that I had not even disagreed with the party, only with a Twitter account that explicitly says “Please note, we don’t speak for @jeremycorbyn or @UKLabour” and with an article on The Independent website.

Unfortunately, we seem to have reached a situation where, on a number of issues, opposing even the rhetoric of extremists is seen as disloyalty. Years of campaigning for the party, the strength of one’s argument and the actual details of Labour Party policy are all seen as irrelevant compared with one’s loyalty to particular factions, including ones operating largely outside the party. If the party cannot distance itself from those who would remake Labour in the image of the SWP, we will only have ourselves to blame when the Tories win an inevitable landslide in 2020.

8 thoughts on “Why defending teachers who work in academies is not betraying the Labour Party | @oldandrewuk

  1. You are fiddling whilst Rome is burning. The Academy programme means the whole sale destruction of the education system and its eventual turnover down the line in to the hands of the big education companies such as Pearson. Parents up and down the country are up in arms about this and its twin, the increase in meaningless testing in our schools. Massive meetings are being called all over the country to oppose these measures.

    No one who is actively campaigning against academies has ever criticised the teachers in those academies. In fact the teachers in those academies have just as much to lose as teachers in maintained schools. Total academisation will destroy teachers pay and conditions as they are currently understood, maternity pay, sickness pay and other benefits are likely to go in what may be a bonfire of teachers rights. Unqualified teachers already common in Academies are more likley to be employed than ‘expensive’ qualified teachers. Pay progression, TLR’s and so much more will become things of the past. All this will happen in academies if this White Paper becomes law. You are not defending teachers who work in academies, the NUT is doing that by its forthright position in opposing Academies whilst defending its members who work in them. Many Academy teachers and even heads have spoken out against Nicky Morgan’s plans.

    All this is without mentioning the massive damage the programme will do to children’s education. Michael Rosen has pointed out that the increase in testing is an attempt at a control measure, the National Curriculum will no longer exist but the government wants to keep control of what happens in the classroom and therefore there it is only possible to do that through Ofsted and testing.

    You have seen how the increasingly desperate Nick Morgan, looking for any port in a storm has sized upon your words. You created a straw man for the Tories to use. Labour Teachers need to actively join the fight against academies which is way beyond the Labour Party.

    1. Almost everything you have said here is wrong.

      Academies are not destructive, they are just schools. They have nothing to do with Pearson. The amount of testing in schools keeps being reduced by politicians.

      You cannot criticise what academies are doing without criticising the people who work in them. They are not run by robots, they are staffed by teachers, TAs, support staff and the rest. If you say they don’t teach the local community, you are saying the teachers don’t. Academies are free to agree to the existing STPCD. There are issues around ones that don’t, but pointless pretending that this is normal. Or that LA schools followed the document to the letter and never pressured teachers into unpaid overtime. I’d love to see TLRs go, they were always an outrageous waste of money. In what other profession do you have 42% of people in management positions over others in the profession? But there’s no reason to think they will.

      I’m curious, have you actually thought any of this through? Have you actually checked that what you claim is happening? I’m just a teacher working in an academy, but none of this stuff is happening in my academy. And I don’t think this is unusual. I feel that people have invented horror stories about what will happen, and when it doesn’t actually happen, they just overlook it. We are still doing pretty much the same things we always did in schools, perhaps with a slightly less dumbed down curriculum and less prescription about how to teach. That’s it. 6 years of the Tories and still no take over by private companies, still no academies run for profit and still no collapse in conditions (although pay is being eroded). Some things are worse, some better, and this is worth debating and worth criticising where appropriate, but none of the conspiracy theories have come true and if they haven’t come true in 6 years, when will they?

      1. Just out of interest Andrew, what do you have against TLRs?

        Surely teachers should be rewarded for taking on additional responsibilities that increase their workload?

        What would you have to replace the TLR system?

        1. It’s the leadership part rather than the responsibility part. As I said, it is ludicrous to have 42% of teachers as some kind of manager. Over 50% in some schools.

          1. In my experience, it has only been academies that have such a convoluted structure – far too many layers of middle management with too many grey areas as to exactly is responsible for what. Disjointed leadership makes for an unhappy workplace.

            So what system would you have in place instead? Anyone with responsibility of any sort moves onto the Leadership pay scale?

          2. I’ve experienced it in LA schools. I would prefer a move back to the old system of responsibility points. Teachers should be able to update a spreadsheet or organise a prize giving evening without having to observe their colleagues multiple times a year.

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