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2nd December 2015

Dispute over Parrs Wood’s proposed academy conversion

Teaching unions express concern over the recent proposal to turn Parrs Wood High School, one of Manchester’s highest performing secondary schools, into an independent academy

Governors at Parrs Wood high school, one of Manchester’s leading secondary schools, have developed plans to transform the school into an independent academy. The proposal sparked outrage in the unions at Parrs Wood, who eventually sought help from their local council. Shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, has angered union bosses in Manchester by refusing to support their anti-academy campaign at the school in East Didsbury.

The unions at Parrs Wood high formulated a letter to local councillors and MPs, stating that at a meeting attended by 85 staff members, the vote was unanimous to protest the school’s conversion into an academy. The proposal is part of an ongoing debate about a government initiative to turn the majority of secondary schools into academies. This means that Parrs Wood high school, which is one of the most oversubscribed secondary schools in Manchester, will break away from their local education authority. The logic behind the government initiative is that schools will have access to more funding and a free, high-quality education that is available to all. Unions, however, are concerned about education powers being taken away local authorities and concentrated back to Whitehall.

Withington’s MP, Jeff Smith, commented on the recent proposal:  “Having recently been a governor for several years at Parrs Wood, I know that the governing body will act in the best interests of the school pupils and community. Parrs Wood is consulting on a proposal to become an academy on their own terms, and I welcome the commitment to maintain the ethos of Parrs Wood as a school committed to serving the local community if it decides to become an academy.”

Powell commends the governors at Parrs Wood High school for their decision, adding that they have made a smart move by choosing to convert now instead of being forced to in the future. She says it is “clear that the government is determined that the majority of secondary schools will be academies by the end of the parliament.”

Commenting on Labour policy, a union member says: “The unions are surprised and deeply disappointed as when Jeremy Corbyn, and indeed Lucy Powell, came in, their opposition to the academies policy seemed clear. This school is doing well, so we can’t understand why anyone would want to change the model.”

Secretary for the National Union of Teachers in Manchester, John Morgan, states: “As a union we are totally against academisation. We see it as an ideological move rather an educational one. We do not see the benefit of converting a good school like Parrs Wood into an academy. There is very little to suggest it will make it a better school.”

Since the decision to convert was made public, Powell’s office has stated that “things have moved on” since the union disputes and that a higher number off staff now back the school’s plans. It is one of Powell’s goals to keep all types of schools under some form of local oversight in the future.

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