Academies row as school governor quits

Report by Russell Hargrave

School signA major union has warned that teachers’ pay in the borough could become a “free for all” amid the latest controversy over new academy schools.

The warning came from the local branch of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) following the resignation of a governor in Leyton over a secondary school’s decision to become an academy.

Shumon Ali-Rahman, who served as a governor at Lammas School in Seymour Road for five years, warned in his resignation letter that academisation could bring “changes in staff pay, terms and conditions, and staff redundancies”. He also expressed regret that the board had not considered the possibility of local schools “joining together as a collective or partnership” as an alternative to academies.

The former school governor’s letter, which was shared with the Echo, has reignited the debate about the future of local schools. In March this year, the government announced that all local authority-run schools would be required to become academies by 2022, but later rowed back on this policy and stated that schools will now merely be encouraged to convert.

Responding to the latest news, Steve White, NUT’s Waltham Forest branch secretary, told the Echo that his union has always opposed forcing schools to become academies. He argued that the switch to encouraging academisation merely means the process will take longer. “The government will probably arrive at the same aim only a bit more slowly,” he said.

NUT estimates that the education budget for Waltham Forest schools will fall 10.8 percent in real terms by 2020, and that academies will have no choice but to cut costs. Steve said: “[This means] academies will employ under-qualified teachers, because they can, and are already breaking local agreements on class sizes. Pay will be a free-for-all, determined by the market.”

These predictions come as government data now shows that the proportion of academies in Waltham Forest compared to council-run state schools is higher than the national average, and well above that of neighbouring boroughs. According to the Department for Education, looking at all schools types in each English local authority, more than one in four (26 percent) of the borough’s 87 schools are academies or are in the process of converting to an academy. This compares to 23 percent nationally, 14 percent in Newham borough, eleven percent in Enfield, nine percent in both Redbridge and Hackney, and just three percent in Tower Hamlets.

Waltham Forest Council is opposed to forced academisation and this stance was reiterated at at last month’s full council meeting. According to a local authority statement: “This top-down approach runs counter to our belief in local decision-making based on the best interests of children.

“The council continues to fully support schools choosing to remain as local authority-maintained schools.”

It added that any decision by an individual school to consider becoming an academy “should only be taken on the basis of strong evidence and following consultation with parents and staff.”

Lammas School declined to comment on the resignation of Shumon Ali-Rahman.