Monday, 9 April 2012

An Academy is Not the Way Forward

Chorlton High School, perhaps better known to previous generations as 'Oakwood', is considering becoming an Academy. It's a measure of how much has changed in the world of education since the last Labour Government introduced the Academy idea several years ago. Now whilst much of the attention has been on the Government's threatened privatisation of the Health Service, Michael Gove has been stealthily advancing much more rapidly on the schools front, dismantling the power of democratic local authorities being the myth of 'localisation'.

Carrots offered to schools to choose to become Academies include the freedom from Local Authority Control and the freedom to vary from the National Curriculum. The truth is that accountability is transferred to national Government. There are also private companies keen to move in.

The tradition of local authority education is being destroyed before our eyes. Councils are elected, parent Governors are elected. Whilst Councils are often far from perfect, they have the ability to provide appropriate education across the whole area, and a responsibility to deliver it. Academies need serve no-one except the Trust members appointed by Gove's Department in London. The claim that they raise academic standards is also misplaced; the latest findings show that like-for-like, Academy schools get lower exam results than those that have chosen not to become Academies (see here).

As an improving school with a growing local reputation there would previously have been no question of Chorlton High becoming an Academy; there was certainly no talk of it when my younger son was there. Now, the proportion of secondary schools which have become Academies is expected to top 50% by September, and pressure is being put on the rest. Here in Manchester schools across the city have been allowed to convert, with apparently very little opposition within our own council. Under the circumstances I do not really blame the Governors for considering the option of 'jumping before we are pushed'.

The consultation carried out by the school claims support for the move on the basis that 50% of current parents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement 'I support the school taking the steps to Academy status under its own control'. Apart from the fact that therefore 50% of respondents were unconvinced by what in many people's view is a leading statement, the return rate for the consultation was only 7%.

A number of parents and other campaigners have got together to oppose the plans under the umbrella Chorlton Parents Against Academy. They are calling for a properly informed debate which adequately involves the local community, followed by a simple yes/no ballot, before any move to conversion.

The campaign has my full support. Good schools like Chorlton High need to stand up to the Academy tide. Interestingly the 3 sitting Chorlton Councillors, covering both Labour and the Lib Dems, and the local Lib Dem MP John Leech have also stated their opposition to Chorlton High converting, so hopefully they will provide active support to the campaign.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Thank You

I'd like to thank the 647 people in Chorlton ward who voted Green in the Council elections, 11.7% of the vote. I know how hard the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates fought for your vote, with more resources than I was able to muster, and I know that many other people who might vote voted Green will have voted tactically to achieve a particular result.

I'd like to commiserate with defeated Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Ankers, who in my opinion has been a good hard-working councillor, and someone whose personal views I felt I often agreed with. His defeat was not his fault; like many of his colleagues he was the victim of anger in the electorate over what they saw as his Party's betrayal of their promises and their propping up of a hated Tory Government.

I'd like to congratulate the victorious Matt Strong (on his 'strong' campaign?), but I'd also like him to remember the widespread support which the voters of Chorlton have for green issues and for social justice, as he works with his Labour colleagues on the council.

Full result in Chorlton: Labour 2964
Lib Dem 1701
Green 647
Tory 223

I'm please to see that at least Green votes far exceed Tory votes in the Chorlton area. In both Chorlton Park and Whalley Range we were also well ahead of the Tories, and in Whalley Range just 50 votes behind the Liberal Democrats.

Final point - on May 5th all 33 seats resulted in Labour victories. Whilst Labour did spectacularly well, there were still around 40% of the electorate voting for other Parties, but that resulted in no councillors for any other Party. This is bad for democracy; whilst a Yes in the AV referendum (and by my reckoning at the Count, Chorlton voted 'YES') would have made little difference to the Parliamentary arithmetic, it would at least have been an indication that people wanted change. First past the post delivers very unbalanced results, and Manchester is increasing proof of it. The need for democratic reform is very much still with us.