Teachers threaten to strike in protest at academies

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The Independent Online

Teachers vowed yesterday to step up their opposition to the Government's flagship academy programme with a ballot for local strike action against the creation of more schools.

Describing such schools as the "most serious threat" ever faced by the education system, the National Association of School Masters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) unanimously passed a motion to ballot members over industrial action in opposition to schools becoming academies.

Delegates at the union's annual conference in Birmingham condemned the academy programme, arguing that it was giving private sponsors unprecedented powers to "dictate areas of the curriculum" and had damaged co-operation between schools. Celia Foote, a teacher from Leeds, warned: "The state education system is being dismantled and repackaged into pseudo-commercial units in the form of academy schools. If it takes the threat of strike action to show [the Government] we are serious, then so be it."

Hank Roberts, a teacher from the London Borough of Brent, urged colleagues to fight the creation of new academies. He led a protest which saw demonstrators in tents occupying a planned academy site in Wembley, north-west London.

Mr Roberts said: "This is the most serious threat we have faced. If they [the Government] succeed in this... our pay and conditions will be worsened and children's education will be worsened."

"We have not yet reached a high enough level of resistance. We have to use every weapon in our armoury and that includes strike action. We owe it to our forebears and all those who fought to make sure that all kids get a good education. This is a fundamental attack and we must respond."

Academies are state-funded schools established and managed by sponsors, such as millionaire philanthropists or businesses. The government invests £25m towards building and running costs. However, the involvement of sponsors has caused controversy because they gain enormous power over the running of a school in return for their investment.

The programme was set up to replace failing schools, and ministers want to see 400 academies established in England by 2010. There are currently 83 academies in 49 local authority areas.

NASUWT members said academies deprived staff of their rights because they do not have to recognise unions and can be exempt from national rules on pay and conditions. Delegates condemned this anomaly as unjust and voted to join an "anti-academies alliance" to step up NASUWT's opposition to the programme.

The union's general secretary, Chris Keates, said: "The deep disquiet about, and opposition to, the academy programme continues. Teachers in academy schools are entitled to the same protection and benefits as teachers in other state schools."

*The biggest teaching union pledged yesterday to oppose recruitment by the armed forces in schools, saying that Ministry of Defence recruitment material was "misleading propaganda".

The National Union of Teachers also condemned a teaching pack about the Iraq war by the MoD, claiming it was "illegal" as it failed to provide a balanced viewpoint.