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.