Special report: ‘Money wasted on free school scheme’ as education cuts bite

Criticism: Anne Swift pictured with pupils when she was headteacher at Gladstone Road Primary Schools, Scarborough.
Criticism: Anne Swift pictured with pupils when she was headteacher at Gladstone Road Primary Schools, Scarborough.
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“We are not in a good situation in education in this country.”

These are the words of the former president of the National Union of Teachers, who stepped down from her leadership role yesterday.

Anne Swift told The Yorkshire Post the growing number of academies, government “vanity projects” amid cuts to school budgets and intense pressures on pupils and teachers to “get results” have led to an increasingly fragmented education system.

The former Scarborough headteacher, who has been president of the union for the last 12 months following two years as vice-president, handed over the medal of office at the opening meeting of the NUT’s annual conference.

Reflecting on her time as leader, she said: “There has been a big rise in the number of academies and academy chains sponsored by businesses and commercial investors, who view education as a market where you can make a profit.

“Everything the Government has been doing is in preparation for companies to take over the education of pupils.

“We are fundamentally opposed to that. It is a public right and should be paid for through general taxation.”

Last year The Yorkshire Post revealed that Wakefield City Academies Trust paid close to £450,000 to companies belonging to its chief executive and his daughter.

Referencing this, Mrs Swift said: “There has been a rise in the number of CEOs, principals, or whatever they want to call themselves, who have the position of a headteacher, but pay themselves eight-figure sums, which is taking money away from pupils and education.”

Mrs Swift said the Coalition Government was able to put a “bit of a break” on some of the controversial schemes, and praised the introduction of free school meals for infants.

“It is good to see the Labour group is expanding that all primary pupils,” she said.

But it is the cuts to education funding that Mrs Swift said is the biggest issue facing the system, with unions warning that schools across Yorkshire could lose more than £312m from their budgets and up to 8,378 teachers facing the axe. She said: “This will have a massive impact on schools all over the country and it’s a big challenge for us at the moment.

“The Government is choosing to spend its money on vanity projects, like free schools, academisation and now it is talking about having grammar schools. These are red herrings to distract us from what’s really going on.”

Highlighting serious problems related to the growing number of schools which act as their own admission authorities, she added: “Academies are finding their own ways of excluding children. They can set criteria so children who won’t enhance their results won’t make it into their schools. I don’t think the public realise this is going on. They are not fully inclusive and that’s a scandal. I think the Government should hold it’s head in shame for allowing a system to develop that doesn’t meet the needs of all children in society.”

Mrs Swift said a “striking” change she had noticed during her time in office was the rest of the UK was going in a different direction with education and was moving away from the English system. She said: “We don’t even have a United Kingdom education service anymore. It is part of the Government’s plan to fragment the education system, whilst at the same time controlling it more totalitarity. They want schools taken out of the local authority and to be funded directly by Westminster.”

After spending her presidential year visiting schools and teachers across the UK, as well as travelling abroad to meet educators, she concluded: “We are not in a good situation in education in this country.

“The testing is not appropriate. The idea that all schools should achieve above average results, that’s not possible. At the moment if schools fall below average they can expect a poor Ofsted report.

“Staff are now demoralised because they are doing things they know don’t improve the education of pupils. It’s to satisfy requirements for evidence children are making progress.

“The workload is a massive issue. Teachers want to put their time and energy into planning exciting lessons for children, but they feel bowed down teaching things that are not suitable - an inappropriate curriculum.

“I know of at least five teachers who are going abroad to teach. The phenomenon seems to be growing. People are deciding it’s not worth their own health, the impact on relationships and the lack of opportunity to be with their families, and they are teaching elsewhere, where they are more respected and valued.”

However, she added: “Without exception everyone I have met wants to do their best for the young people they teach.”

A Department for Education spokeman said academies operated under a strict system of accountability and all transactions must be disclosed in academies’ audited accounts.

He said: “Thanks to our reforms there are now 1.8 million more children being taught in schools rated good or outstanding schools than in 2010. School funding is at its highest level on record.”