Threat of strike action over White Paper's academy plans

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Anger: The White Paper dominated discussions at all three teacher union conferences, with the NUT specifically threatening strike action. Pictured here are delegates at the NASUWT event (Image: Mark Hakansson/Mousetrap Media)

The government is facing fierce opposition and likely industrial action over its plans to academise every school in the country by 2022.

The Department for Education’s (DfE) latest White Paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, was published before Easter, just days before the three main teaching unions met for their annual conferences.

It sets out plans to academise every state school in England, with plans to forcibly convert any schools that remain unacademised by 2020. It means that the role of local authorities in maintaining schools will cease entirely by the end of 2022, with most schools being expected to join multi-academy trusts (MATs).

The proposals drew severe criticism from the teaching unions, who have accused the government of wasting money on a “top-down reorganisation of state education” instead of addressing issues such as recruitment, retention, workload and school places.

An emergency motion laid before the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Brighton and approved by delegates threatens one-day strike action before the end of the summer term.

It calls on the NUT to approach all other unions in education to organise a timetable of industrial action in protest.

The motion stated: “By 2022, (the government) will force 17,000 maintained schools to join unaccountable multi-academy trusts. This will mean that schools will cease to exist as separate entities. It is now clear that the government is intent on creating an education marketplace, which will have privatisation as an ultimate aim.”

The debate heard that more than 80 per cent of local authority maintained schools are currently rated “good” or “outstanding” and that just 15 per cent of the largest MATs perform above the national average in terms of pupil progress. It also criticised the government for not having included the policy within its election manifesto.

The motion added: “Conference notes the growing body of evidence, including from the Education Select Committee, Ofsted, the Sutton Trust and the Local Schools Network, which clearly demonstrates that sponsored academies do not perform as well as maintained schools, as judged by the test and examination metrics favoured by government.”

In her address, NUT general secretary Christine Blower, pointed to chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw’s recent criticism of the performance of seven MATs after focused inspections by Ofsted.

Ms Blower also referenced the two Parliamentary petitions opposing the plans, both of which passed 100,000 within a week. She added: “We now have an agreed strategy to take us forward in this campaign. There will be a ballot for action, as conference has agreed.”

Education secretary Nicky Morgan, defended the plans when she addressed the NASUWT annual conference in Birmingham.

She told delegates: “It isn’t for me, or officials in Whitehall, or Ofsted to decide how best to teach or run schools – it’s for you: the teachers who know better than anyone what works in the classroom and what your pupils need.

“Alongside all of the other reforms outlined in the White Paper the autonomy that academy status brings is ultimately about giving you the opportunity to step up and make the decisions that will shape the future of schools.”

In her response, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates told Ms Morgan: “Listen to the concerns that are being raised. If you want Educational Excellence Everywhere as your White Paper is entitled, then recognise that there are outstanding academies, outstanding community schools, outstanding foundation schools, outstanding voluntary aided schools which proves academies don’t have the monopoly on excellence and that structural change, by itself, doesn’t raise standards. Think again. And ditch the proposal to force every school to become an academy.”

Elsewhere, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Dr Mary Bousted, also attacked the academisation plans.

In her address to delegates at their conference in Liverpool, she said: “Either the government is simply unaware of its own DfE analysis, done last year, which shows that only three of the top 20 MATs achieve above average value-added results, (or to put it another way, 85 per cent of the academy chains perform below national average in terms of pupil progress) or it does not know that most MATs lower educational standards.”

Education Excellence Everywhere: White Paper

  • By 2020 all schools will either already have converted to academy status or be in the process of doing so. Schools that have not started by 2020 will be forced to convert. The “vast majority” of schools will work in multi-academy trusts (MATs). Some “successful, sustainable schools” will still be able to continue as a single academy trusts. There will be new performance tables for MATs.
  • A new accreditation will replace qualified teacher status and will be awarded by a school’s headteacher when a teacher has demonstrated classroom proficiency, including in areas such as behaviour management and subject knowledge.
  • New web tools will be created to help schools advertise vacancies for free. A new national teacher vacancy website will help aspiring and current teachers to find posts quickly.
    “Achieving Excellence Areas” will be identified where the government deems not enough children have access to a good school place. A pilot of this approach will begin in September. These areas will be prioritised for initiatives to attract quality teachers and leaders, such as the National Teaching Service.
  • A new parent portal will provide “information on school performance, guidance on how the school system works and information on specific aspects such as a clearer and fairer school complaints and admissions system”.
  • The DfE will “no longer require academy trusts to reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”.
  • The White Paper proposes new “improvement periods” for schools that have been judged as “requiring improvement” by Ofsted. Such schools that have been taken over by a new sponsor will not be re-inspected until their third year to give heads “a chance to bring about real improvement and change”.
  • Ofsted will consult on removing the separate graded judgements on the quality of teaching, learning and assessment to “help clarify that the focus of inspection is on outcomes and to reduce burdens on schools and teachers”.
  • The White Paper pledges consultation on a new National Funding Formula and aims for “most schools in line for extra funding through the formula to receive this in full by 2020”.
  • A commitment to support the College of Teaching by making available up to £5 million in staged funding as the College “demonstrates its credibility, independence and support within the profession”.

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