Thursday, December 11, 2008

Written version of speech given to Croydon SOS Trade Union Rally

Below is the speech I gave to the Croydon Save our Schools Trade Union Rally.

Picture and report from event are on the BBC web site.

Green party councillor Romayne Phoenix was marked down to speak at this rally today. Regrettably, she is at a council meeting in Lewisham. She sends her apologies.

Nevertheless, you’ll be pleased to know you’ve got me to say a few words!

I wanted to talk about three aspects to this Secondary Review in Croydon. Firstly a more holistic look at what is going on; secondly an appraisal of the private sponsors selected; and finally the group Croydon SOS itself.

Now being a Green, I do like to look at things holistically. What we are seeing is this Academy programme is part of a wider agenda – namely the marketisation of our public services. I hope you agree with me that public services are best kept publically owned, publically funded and publically accountable.

But across a whole range of sectors including transport, health and education – which we are seeing first hand - there is a continued creeping privatisation. It’s important that unions, campaign groups and political parties continue to fight these changes – because once the public are informed - they are on your side. I’ll give you an example: a few months back, we the Green Party ran a stall at the Thornton Heath street festival. We brought along our usual leaflets etc and I also had a couple of placards which said ‘KEEP THE NHS PUBLIC.’ Within a few minutes people were coming up to our stall asking where to sign. My colleague and I who were manning the stall hastily put cobbled together a petition and by the end of the day we had collected three pages of signatures. It was made to clear to me then that at times the general public are aware of the issues and need at times a route to register the anger or concern.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to appraise the private sponsors that are preferred by this council. When the preferred sponsors were announced on Monday, my immediate reaction was that clearly there are only one or two sponsors coming forward, especially with no one still preferred for Selsdon High. Arguably, the combination of the lack of a life peerage in the offing and economic crisis is limiting the selection pool.

Seeing we are talking about education, I figured the best way to appraise these sponsors is maybe like report card.

So let’s start with Lord Harris or Baron Harris of Peckham – let’s look at his attendance. Well so far, Harris has taken on Sylvan and Stanley Tec. It’s fair to say that Harris is oversubscribed at present. But it’s important to look closer at the situation north of the borough. When I was 10 going on eleven years old, living north of the borough (as I still do), there were several local state schools I could have selected. Norbury Manor, Ingram, Selhurst, Lanfranc, Sylvan and Stanley Tec. Norbury Manor, Ingram, and Selhurst are no more and Sylvan and Stanley Tec are now Harris Academy. This leaves Lanfranc which is now also earmarked for Academy status. So essentially, what I am saying is that you haven’t got much choice if you live north of the borough.

Now if you factor in the statistic that, according to the council, 2/3 of Haling Manor pupils reside north of the borough AND now we find that Harris is the preferred sponsor of Haling Manor.
We can see your option is practically Harris or Harris as of next year.
Surely this is one for the monopolies and mergers commission.
This essentially allows Harris to cream the high-achievers north of the borough.

Now, what about the attendance of Oasis. Oasis Trust are the sponsor of nine secondary schools and now they are the preferred sponsor for Ashburton. It is important to remember that they only opened their first Oasis Academy in September 2007. We’re still in 2008. Where is the track record? The House of Commons Education and Skills Select Committee recently criticised the expansion of academies because it is an untested model.

Going back to our report card, what about the behavior or attitude of Oasis? Now here, I have to say that Reverend Steve Chalke, the founder of Oasis, is an incredibly charismatic individual – this worries me because you simply don’t know what the real motivation is behind the fa├žade. What is his real background? What’s in it for him to take on so many schools? One thing that Gatlandgate has taught us is that we simply don’t know what the background is of an individual. Cllr Gatland had ability to continue a whole council meeting without letting on the strain she must have been enduring inside. One thing we do know about the Reverend Steve Chalke is that in a recent Radio 4 interview he reckoned that moral values could only originate from the bible.

What about the behavior or attitude of Lord Harris? Well what we do know is that he has made donations to David Cameron as leader of the Conservative party and is considered to be one of his personal friends. You’ve got to ask the question, has this influenced the selection?

Finally, I wanted to talk about the Croydon SOS group. What a relief it is to so many that we kick started this group. Before Croydon SOS existed, we the Croydon Green Party wondered how it would possible to fight these proposals. Like you we were astounded at the gall of this axe wielding council. We wondered how we could join up with like minded people from different organisations. Jay my fellow Green Party colleague who is the audience was receiving emails from British Humanist Association about their concerns. We have to thank the Croydon Trades Council for their leading role here. In fact, we should all give ourselves a pat on the back on getting this far – we’ve had some small wins - but we have to recognise the fight must continue.

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