THE MESSAGE from representatives of students, teachers and parents was resoundingly clear at a public meeting about local schools last night – no to academies.
The government is keen to see as many schools as possible turn into academies, which have the power to set their own admissions policy, curriculum, teachers’ pay and length of school day.
A line-up of educational leaders in Portsmouth made a stinging critique of the state-funded independent schools to a 55-strong audience at the Central Library.
Hayden Taylor, 14, who spoke as chairman of Council of Portsmouth Students, attracted the loudest applause when he said academies were ‘not the way forward’.
He said: ‘The government has been lazy in its approach to schools and education, and I’ve encountered so much negativity from students.
‘COPS members voted 90 per cent against academies in Portsmouth, because the local authority is something students really appreciate.
‘I really do hope and believe the city stays harmoniously together and that all our schools are not broken up.’
Sion Reynolds, president of the NASUWT union, railed against academy sponsors helping themselves for free to public assets and refusing to play by the rules by setting their own pay conditions and refusing to take excluded students from other schools.
Amanda Martin, local branch secretary for the NUT that represents 1,000 teachers in the city said there had never been a more important time to defend education.
She added: ‘Academies have a damaging impact on children, teachers and the whole community, and they do not raise standards.
‘The government tried the carrot approach but hardly anyone signed up – now it’s the stick approach.
‘We have to try to stop academies coming into Portsmouth. We have to work together and campaign.’
Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, slammed the coalition’s academies programme as ‘something absolutely rotten’ and warned of their vulnerability to multi-national corporations who have already declared an interest in running empires of up to 1,000 academies.
Mr Smith said: ‘If you go down the academy route, it will be a dog-eat-dog educational world. Portsmouth should campaign against any school becoming an academy.’
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, whose speech expressed a necessary compromise to negotiate with ‘less nutty’ academy sponsors, conceded after the debate that he needed to find another way.
He said: ‘It has given me a lot to think about. I’m starting to consider whether there is a possibility that we can beat the government at their own game. There is no reason why the city can’t form its own trust with our university, a further education college and the Southern Co-operative (community business group), so we can carry on running our schools.’
Portsmouth has one academy, Charter, which replaced failing St Luke’s under the New Labour scheme in 2009. This year Miltoncross announced plans to convert with sponsors Academies Enterprise Trust.