Campaigners criticise Newham Council for reversing academies vote pledge

Campaigners opposed to schools becoming academies at Newham Town Hall on Tuesday, July 3. Pic: JON K

Campaigners opposed to schools becoming academies at Newham Town Hall on Tuesday, July 3. Pic: JON KING - Credit: Archant

Campaigners have clashed with the council after it reversed a pledge to force schools to hold ballots if they want to become academies.

The campaigners – who won a six-month long battle against Avenue Primary School in Manor Park becoming an academy – criticised the council’s refusal to call for binding parent and staff votes to decide if schools convert.

The council agreed to offer parents, schools and governors information about academisation including a guide on how to carry out “meaningful consultation” at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

By law, governing bodies usually decide if schools become academies.

Newham education chief Cllr Julianne Marriott said the council had no legal power to force schools to hold binding ballots, reversing a pledge the council agreed to in February.

But Louise Cuffaro, secretary of Newham branch of the National Education Union, said: “The council’s policy can be made so it encourages governing bodies to hold a ballot as part of a meaningful consultation process.

“This would be the strongest message to governing bodies and headteachers that Newham Council is opposed to academisation.”

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Former chancellor George Osborne announced in March 2016 plans to force all schools in England to convert to academies by 2020 or commit to it by 2022. The government argues academies drive up standards. Critics say they ignore parents’ views and lack oversight of spending. They argue schools are being moved from public to private ownership.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, speaking at the meeting, said: “This was a significant issue causing a huge amount of distress among residents who wish to see schools maintaining their links with the local authority.”

She slammed the approach of former mayor Sir Robin Wales’s administration to keeping schools under council control.

“The approach to enhancing support to schools so they are encouraged to stay in the state maintained sector hasn’t been of the excellent standard I would expect from a Labour-led council.

“This is about pressing the reset button,” she said.

Another measure commits Newham to urging the government to allow academies to return to council oversight and for local authorities to open schools.