He who pays the piper

October 26, 2007

The recent visit of Lords Denham and Adonis to University College London in an attempt to bolster support for the proposed Camden Academy should serve as a warning to all working in higher education.

There has been such embarrassment about and public opposition to the handing over of schools to secondhand car dealers, religious fundamentalists and tax evaders that the Government is now seeking university involvement to give a veneer of respectability. The academies project remains, however, a form of privatisation, with or without universities as co-sponsors, involving the removal of local democratic control, increased market competition and the power of academies to select pupils.

The involvement of universities as co-sponsors of academies may, superficially, look attractive to those who wish to cement links with their local communities. The concessions proposed by Schools Secretary Ed Balls, who reassures us that "the test of whether an organisation can be a potential sponsor should not be its bank balance but whether it can demonstrate leadership, innovation and a commitment to act in the public interest" may have a benign ring. We should not, however, be fooled.

The Government's plans can only cause disruption and division. Sponsors aim to buy influence over the curriculum and an ability to ignore national agreements on pay and conditions for staff. Procedures for special needs provision, exclusions and admissions can override equitable local arrangements.

Many academics already work in close partnership with schools. In those cases where provision is in danger of falling below an acceptable level we remain willing to work with schools and local authorities to help to address the situation. This is quite different from helping to set up schools where local accountability does not exist, where democratically elected governing bodies are a thing of the past and where selection and hierarchy masquerade as diversity of provision.

Sean Wallis, Branch Secretary, UCL UCU
Simon Renton, President, UCL UCU; UCU National Executive Committee
Tamsin Piper, Branch Secretary, UCL Unite
Mark Campbell, UCU London Region HE Secretary
Karen Evans, UCU National Executive Committee
Professor Malcolm Povey, UCU National Executive Committee
Howard Miles, UCU National Executive Committee
Andy Scally, Vice President, Bradford UCU
Professor Michael Edwards, UCL UCU Executive Committee
Elizabeth Clear, UCL UCU Executive Committee
George Paizis, UCL UCU Executive Committee
Luca Salice, Chair of Governors, Torriano Junior School, London
Richard Reiser, Director, Disability Equality in Education
Bob Archer, President, Redbridge NUT
Professor Ken Jones, Keele University
Mary Lightfoot, Birkbeck College
Bahadur Najak, University of Durham
Professor Dennis Leech, University of Warwick
Hera Cook, University of Birmingham
Richard Hatcher, Birmingham City University
Ron Mendel, President, Northampton TUC
Jon Berry, University of Hertfordshire
Pat Yarker, University of East Anglia
Professor Dave Hill, University of Northampton
Shirley Franklin, Institute of Education
Alisdair Smith, Institute of Education
Terry Wrigley, Edinburgh University

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