Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/374/6119
Protest defeats millionaire's academy
THE DAY before the picket we'd organised at Debenham's, the news came through. Millionaire Jasper Conran, designer of fashions, homeware, jewellery and fragrances could now no longer add McEntee Secondary School in east London to his long list of assets.
A vigorous campaign by Waltham Forest parents, support staff and teachers, backed up by NUT, UNISON and TGWU unions, had forced him to withdraw as sponsor of one of Blair's proposed academies.
In their efforts to entice business people into their programme of privatising education, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) probably promised Conran a halo. Wasn't this philanthropist bringing money and opportunity to the poor kids of east London? However, at the first whiff of opposition, the enthusiasm of this 'benefactor' took a dive.
At first our vigorous local campaign stuck to information-gathering, letter-writing, petitions and consultation. But we quickly realised that the councillors were never going to change their minds.
A rumour was gaining credence - if Waltham Forest councillors rejected an academy, no money would be released for refurbishing all the other secondary schools. Some even admitted that if this was the only way to get £24 million, they would vote for it, even though they were opposed to the principle of academies!
A similar threat emerged during the campaign against the outsourcing of the education services to a private company a few years ago.
It was then we decided to take the campaign outwards. We challenged Conran to a debate but got no reply. Then we organised a picket of Debenham's in Oxford Street where Conran has an outlet under the 'J' label. Plans were also afoot to take the message to other town centres.
This is not necessary now but he may be looking for another school to descend on. Parents, students and school staff should be vigilant...!
However, as with any victory, there's another battle on the horizon. Conran might have dropped out but the United Learning Trust - alias the Church Schools Company - has stepped in.
Today we're celebrating. Tomorrow we take stock and draw up new plans. Our objections to the deregulation of education remain the same. Our belief, that if you have a go you have a chance of winning, remains undiminished.
Our victory comes on the heels of another victory against a second Vardy Academy in Doncaster. There parents, many of whom were involved in the miners' strike in the 1980s, gave this warning. They took our mines, they took our jobs, they are NOT taking our schools!
In this spirit we will continue the fight.
In The Socialist 11 December 2004:
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