Moulsecoomb Primary School is today decked out with home-made banners and ‘protest pillowcases’ as local parents and community organisations show their support for a staff strike. Members of the NEU, GMB and UNISON are taking a day of strike action and calling on Gavin Williamson to drop the forced academisation of the school. The vibrant colours and messages make it very clear that the community supports their call for the school to stay within the Brighton and Hove family.
Union officers are making sure that rules on Covid-safety are strictly applied and that the numbers on picket lines are limited and distanced. Pedestrians have expressed their support visually; passing drivers have hooted their approval and local businesses have shown solidarity by displaying posters. To make sure that disadvantaged children do not miss out with the school being closed, the trade unions have provided lunches to replace those that would usually be provided by the school.
The strike follows a recent announcement by the Department for Education that three new academy sponsors are being considered. Unions believe that the Regional Schools Commission is poised to make a decision at a meeting scheduled for Thursday 25th March, against the wishes of the local community, the school and its staff. Two further days of strike action are scheduled for next month. Unions have confirmed that further strikes would be postponed if the sponsors withdraw from the process.
The Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary campaign group sprung into action when the announcement was made. 120 people joined the Zoom meeting and heard unions, parents, councillors and the local MP, Lloyd Russell Moyle, condemn the undemocratic privatization threat opposed by 96% of parents in a formal ballot. Those attending the meeting were shocked to learn of a serious conflict of interest: the Regional Director of Schools for the Pioneer Academy was part of the Ofsted inspection team that rated the school as inadequate in 2019. Three other academy sponsors have previously withdrawn their interest, following pressure from the Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary group and campaigners have called on the three new sponsors to pull out too.
Since the public meeting, the Chief Education Officers of the three trusts have received over 500 email messages from campaign supporters requesting that they withdraw. On Wednesday 17th March, two of the Trusts took down their Twitter accounts due to the negative publicity they were receiving, and campaigners discovered that their tweets had been blocked.
Staff and parent campaigners are determined that their school will not be forced out of the Brighton and Hove family of schools. They point to the evidence that schools under local authority control have a much better record of making improvements. This is borne out by the significant improvement in Moulsecoomb Primary’s SATs results released in the same academic year as the inspection.
A BBC News item on Friday 19th March reported that pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEND) at academy schools are half as likely to be identified and given help than similar pupils in other schools. Children with more severe needs and living in areas with very few academy schools, like Brighton and Hove, are ten times more likely to be identified with SEND by their local authority as similar children living in areas that have many academy schools. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-56431592
Staff working at Moulsecoomb Primary also raised their concerns about reductions in resources for teaching and learning. Local Authority and academy schools are funded on the same formula basis but Multi-Academy Trusts (MATS) devote more money to paying senior staff, leaving less for spending in the classroom. In a recent article in Education Uncovered, analysing accounts showed that for the services of the Chief Executive of the Pioneer Academy, one of the three potential sponsors, the cost-per-school works out at around £15,000. For Brighton and Hove’s Executive Director for Families, Children and Learning, it’s only just over £2,000.