‘There have been campaigns against academies since the policy of freeing schools from local authority control was launched by New Labour, and the Anti-Academies Alliance has been around for 10 years. But the government’s latest push, signalled by its schools white paper in March – combined with evidence of poor performance at some multi-academy trusts and publicity surrounding high salaries and financial irregularities – has led to a renewed surge of activism.
“People are starting to realise they aren’t the only ones with spine-chilling stories of how children are being treated,” says Madeleine Holt, one of the organisers of another group, Rescue Our Schools, whose focus is social media. Holt, a former journalist who also runs the social enterprise Meet the Parents, believes campaigns against academisation and the removal of the requirement for parent governors, protests against behaviour policies and Sats, and parents challenging the bar on termtime holidays, are all part of the same phenomenon.
“It’s a broader movement. It’s an emotional thing: parents feel they’ve been shoved aside over the years,” she says. “It’s like a Venn diagram – we have slightly different views on some issues but there is a substantial core of shared ideas.”
“We’re not just anti-academies activists any more,” agrees Alasdair Smith, a teacher and parent in east London who was active in the Anti-Academies Alliance before setting up Parents Defending Education. “It’s about cuts, special educational needs and the curriculum.”
If all these parents have something in common, it is that they object to what they regard as the new and unaccountable power of schools, and the corresponding decline in their own influence. Diane Reay, professor of education at Cambridge University and a researcher in the area of family-school relationships, says the Conservative flagship policy of free schools was built on a “fallacy of parental involvement” – in the latest batch of 22 free schools approved by education secretary Nicky Morgan, just one is run by parents. She argues that “growing disquiet about schooling” may be due to growing awareness of anxiety and unhappiness (shown in statistics as well as anecdotes) in children.
David James, professor at Cardiff University and editor of the British Journal of Sociology of Education, thinks parents were slow to realise the implications of a policy that took schools out of local control. “It changes the whole dynamic,” he says. “It happened slowly but inexorably, and people partly didn’t realise because New Labour were as responsible as anyone else.” – Guardian