In a lovely epilogue to a campaign to save their school from being converted into an academy, students at John Roan in Greenwich, London, have reported their best ever BTEC and A-Level results.
The John Roan Resists campaign was a particularly bruising result of Michael Gove’s stint as Education Minister, as his 19th-century ideas about how to bring out the best in 21st century children meshed catastrophically with modern-day neoliberal Tory economics in the “free-school” and academy scheme.
Parents, teachers and students united in a lengthy effort in 2016 to stop the service from being “academicised” — taken out of council hands and put under the control of a board of governors as a limited liability company — by newly-appointed boss Nadine Powrie, on the grounds the council-run comprehensive had racked up debts of £400,000.
The reorganisation, one of hundreds pushed through last year, would have opened the school up to intervention or takeover by private entities which have colonised the proto-private space opened up by Gove and his chums. Working alongside teachers who staged walkouts and backed by many parents, students were heavily involved in the campaign via outreach actions, pressuring governors and council figures over potential job cuts and holding a study protest.
The John Roan Resists campaign was spectacularly successful, managing not only to hold off the conversation to Academy status, but forcing the resignation of Powrie herself on “health grounds.” In a statement they said:
How did they do?
The best ever!
What a brilliant tribute to caring and campaigning for the school.
Love education – hate education cuts!
John Roan has been in the minority having successfully resisted State efforts to academicise the system — more than two thirds of secondary schools and a quarter of primary schools have been converted as of May 2017. But it offers a strong example of local grassroots organising and direct action getting the goods, apparently without impacting on examination results.
Despite the promise of “greater flexibility and choice” touted by the proponents of academies, who argue slicing them away from council control allows for more innovation and freedoms to experiment within the sector, anarchist perspectives on the academies phenomenon have been largely cynical.
Groups such as the Solfed Education Workers Network have noted the academy process has its roots in neoliberal and austerity-led politics, which rarely leads to improved autonomy for anything except business interests, which are being given space to develop new cartels and impose more directly capitalist ideals on the sector.
As a perspective, this has been largely borne out over time. Rather than a multiplicity of organisations linked organically to teachers, parents and students offering autonomous practices, more than two thirds of the newly “freed” schools have already been swept up into multi-academy Trusts, a trend which looks set to continue as “successful” bodies eat up smaller ones. These bodies have failed to substantially improve results and seven were called out by Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw last year over their performance.
Academy chiefs have also repeatedly tried to use their company status to wriggle out of responding to Freedom of Information requests, which don’t apply to private concerns and can be denied on the grounds of a “commercial interests exemption” (for info on how to navigate academy-related FoI requests, try here).
Pic: John Roan Resists