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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 April 2021

Academy schools have become business ventures

  (Click to enlarge)

Italo Savastio, South West London Socialist Party

The process of selecting a secondary school for your child can be an agonising one for many parents. In 2005 I viewed about a dozen and chose Pimlico. The headteacher seemed a nice guy and the leadership team honest. No spin doctoring from them. Nothing appeared stage managed, unlike at some of the other schools I viewed.

At Pimlico what you saw is what you got - I thought. Despite years of underfunding from Tory-controlled Westminster City Council, it didn't strike me as 'underperforming'. They were even celebrating improved exam results that year.

My son started Year 7 in September 2006. It therefore came as a massive shock when the school failed the Ofsted inspection later that year. None of the parents, teachers and governors I spoke to believed the school was failing. Weaknesses yes, but not special measures. Some pointed out that the inspectors wanted to serve notice of improvement but were pressured by council leaders to fail it to justify conversion to academy status.

In the meantime, the headteacher resigned and was replaced for an interim period by an 'inspirational superhead', Jo Shuter, Tony Blair's favourite headteacher. So 'super' that she was expected to run two tough inner-city schools at the same time, Pimlico and Quintin Kynaston.

When she first addressed a parent's assembly in early 2007, I sat in disbelief as she slagged off the school claiming its weaknesses were even worse than Ofsted's findings. She was named headteacher of the year in 2007.

Forward to 2014 when she is banned from teaching for life over misuse of her school's funds (overturned on appeal three years later by a Department of Education panel). This included spending over £6,000 on her 50th birthday party, £8,000 on a single night's stay at a top hotel for her leadership team and £1,500 worth of furniture delivered to her home.

Despite organised protests from parents and staff and the vast majority of stakeholders opposing it, Pimlico converted to academy status in 2008. It was a done deal from start to finish. John, now Lord, Nash millionaire Tory donor, 'won' the bid.

Under his Future Academies chain we hear that kids learn about kings and queens in history lessons. It was the Russian revolution and Spanish Civil War I learned when I first viewed Pimlico for my eldest child in 1999 during a tour of the history department!

There was no school uniform. Back then, if you were politically on the left and lived in the catchment area you were likely to choose Pimlico as a school to send your child to. What happened in 2007-8 was akin to a counter-revolution in the ethos of the school.

I had witnessed a similar experience years earlier at Holland Park, the 'Eton of comprehensives', although academy status there came later. Recently walking past that school I found it unrecognisable. A posh new building that resembles the headquarters of a major investment bank, a symbol of the business ventures that academy schools have become under capitalism. Time to reclaim our schools as properly funded and democratically controlled comprehensives.

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