NUT plans for parents to veto trust schools

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The Independent Online

Leaders of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) will seek to enlist the support of parents to block attempts to hand control of their schools over to private sponsors. They will urge MPs to back an amendment to the Government's legislation that will give parents the right to veto any attempt to change a school's status by voting in a ballot.

Steve Sinnott, the NUT's general secretary, said the move would be in line with the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly's "parent power" initiatives - aimed at giving mothers and fathers a bigger say in the running of their children's schools.

"In the past, when schools became grant-maintained and opted out of local authority control (under the Conservatives), there was more democracy," said Mr Sinnott. "The parents were given a choice - they had a ballot. That enabled people to consider the issues. It is strange that a Government that is promoting "parent power" wishes to deny parents the opportunity of choosing whether a change of status for their school is something they want."

The call to mount a campaign against "trust" schools and academies will be debated as an emergency motion at the NUT's annual conference in Torquay today. It was backed by the union's executive.

Mr Sinnott said the NUT was opposed to the idea of private sponsors being able to operate a school for £2m - as happens with the academies - and dictate what should be included in the curriculum.

It would campaign against any attempt to set up a "trust" school or academy. "It must be wrong for somebody who has money that they decide they wish to use for education to be able to buy influence over the curriculum in a school," he added. "It must be wrong that they can peddle their own prejudices and beliefs."

So far the union has run three successful campaigns with parents to persuade sponsors to back out of plans to set up academies - in Doncaster, Middlesbrough and Waltham Forest, east London.

In Waltham Forest, the potential sponsor said he would only go ahead with the plan provided pupils in the existing school to be replaced by the academy were not allowed into the new one.

"It was not very difficult to persuade parents to oppose that one," said Mr Sinnott. "We just told them the sponsor didn't think their children were good enough for the academy."

However, he acknowledged that it would be more difficult if sponsors and the Government offered £30m to change a school which had been struggling for years.

He said that the union would be arguing that the Government should instead plough money into the 300 schools in most need of help - to allow them to have new buildings, smaller class sizes and retain teaching staff.

"We're not against philanthropy," he said.

"In fact - to use the words of Bob Geldof without the expletive - 'give us your money'. We just don't believe it should be used to buy influence over what is taught."

Under both the academy and "trust" school programmes, the sponsor - or partner as they are referred to in the case of "trust" schools - is allowed a majority on the school governing body and can determine the curriculum.

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