The Telegraph reports that teaching unions in the UK are once again threatening a wave of strikes over Government plans to withdraw struggling primary schools from local authority control. The Government wants to improve the education of students attending the failing schools by turning them into independent academies under the leadership of a private sponsor. However teachers’ unions claim that such academies are unaccountable and only damage teachers’ pay and conditions.
A Coalition source accused unions of “once again defending failure”.
“These schools have been letting children down for too long and action has to be taken,” the source said. “The unions should do what is best for children not themselves.”
In most cases school scheduled for conversion will have their management taken over by education chains and charities that already possess a proven track record of turning around the fortunes of poor inner city schools.
However the plans have never been accepted by the unions who view the policy as an effective privatization of the education system. The influence and power of the union depends on their maintaining collective bargaining and they view independent state school as a threat to their own power. Academies would be free to alter teachers’ pay and working condition, free to replace abusive or failing teachers and free to alter the length of the school day.
Christine Blower, NUT general secretary, claimed that forced academies had “nothing to do with raising standards of education” and said the proposals were opposed by many parents in Birmingham.
“Primary academies are a fairly new phenomenon and there is no evidence to suggest that a change in status will automatically raise standards,” she said.
“What it will do is take the school further away from the local community and make it accountable only to the Secretary of State in London or a private sponsor or trust.”
The UK has been the scene for a flurry of teacher strikes over the last couple of years. So much so that there is concern that the frequency of industrial action is overtly damaging children’s education.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are very disappointed that unions are balloting teachers in Birmingham to consider strike action.
“This will not achieve anything positive for the schools involved and will be hugely damaging to the children’s education.
Indeed this seemed to be the general conclusion of Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers in the UK who recently urged his members to minimize strike action and instead seek to convert and mobilize parent groups to their own viewpoint. Hobby recognized that repeated striking only makes the threat less of a weapon and is a less effective negotiating tool with governments than large scale voter discontent.
At present there are proposal to turn 200 of the worst primary schools into academies over the next two years and more than 100 of these conversion are planned for the coming school year starting in September.