Teachers: Academies are recipe for chaos

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The Independent Online

The two biggest teachers' unions have declared war on Tony Blair's plan to set up a network of 200 privately sponsored academies to replace struggling inner-city secondary schools.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers annual conference at Gateshead voted unanimously to send a team of union representatives into areas where new academies are planned to persuade parents and teachers to stop any new scheme getting off the ground.

Ken Muller, a teacher in Islington, north London, won a standing ovation after he told the conference that teachers should "kick the millionaire capitalists out of schools''.

Peter McLaughlin, the president of the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers, said the scheme was "a recipe for chaos'' smacking of "a slavish adherence to an ideology and a fascination with gimmicks".

Mr McLaughlin, a teacher at St James's High School in Stockport, Greater Manchester, told his union's conference in Brighton the academies would create "tiers of elite schools" and "hamper the drive to raise standards for all children''.

Last week, at its conference in Torquay, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers voted to oppose the scheme, saying it was a "Trojan horse'' for privatising education.

Under the scheme, the Government plans to spend £5bn between now and 2010 setting up the network of 200 institutions. Individual sponsors, which include church groups, businesses and millionaire philanthropists, are asked to contribute £2m to a new academy, with the Government spending an average of £25m on building each of the new schools.

The opposition of the three main teachers' unions will increase the pressure on the Prime Minister over the academy programme. Earlier this month, the House of Commons Education Select Committee called for a halt to the programme until research had established whether the 17 already set up had been successful in raising standards.

Delegates at the NUT conference were told there had already been two successful campaigns against academies.

In Doncaster, parents had stopped Sir Peter Vardy, the head of the Vardy Foundation and an evangelical Christian, from setting one up by persuading the local education authority to refuse to support the scheme. Sir Peter has been criticised as a result of an earlier school he had sponsored teaching creationism in science lessons.

In Waltham Forest in north London, the millionaire designer Jasper Conran also pulled out of a scheme following opposition from parents and teachers. Liam Conway, an NUT delegate from Nottinghamshire, told the conference: "Fear of students, teachers, parents and the local community sent the Reverend Vardy packing in Doncaster. The aim of the union's national campaign is now to send the government and its whole programme packing.''

Steve Sinnott, the NUT general secretary, said the academies were able to raise standards only "by changing the children''. They were taking the brightest youngsters away from neighbouring schools,'' he added.

Alan Bradley, from north Westminster Community School, a comprehensive school in west London which is to be broken up into two academies next year, said the scheme smacked of the "sordid privatisation of education" with merchant bankers and evangelical Christians and businesses such as Saga Holidays queuing up to run the schools. The sponsors, he said, were "somewhat like the missionaries who always preceded the imperialists before the empire was built".

The conference was told that each academy cost the Government £25m to build - £10m more than an ordinary secondary school.

The Department for Education and Skills defended the scheme, saying that in the 11 academies where pupils had sat GCSEs last year the percentage getting five A* to C-grade passes had increased - on average - from 21 per cent to 30 per cent in a year. A spokeswoman denied they were selecting pupils, saying: "They are local schools for local people." She added: "Academies are already achieving success in raising standards, improving pupils' behaviour and in attracting applications.''