The Department for Education is facing a revolt over claims Birmingham primary schools are being “forced” to become academies.
Teaching union bosses claim more than 30 city primary schools now are facing pressure from the government to remove themselves from local authority control.
Officials also warned of widespread anger among members, claiming staff are too frightened to speak out against proposals amid what a city MP described as a “culture of fear”.
Teachers at 13 city primary schools have already been balloted for strike action over the controversial proposals, which could see schools across the city closed to pupils.
With opposition growing among parents and teachers, there are fears of an even more widespread revolt over the plans.
Unions have also said schools which are in fact improving are also being “needlessly targeted” for forced academy conversion. Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and NASUWT unions have been balloted at schools including West Heath Primary School, Northfield Manor Primary School and Matthew Boulton Primary School in Handsworth.
In an exclusive interview with the Birmingham Post, Education Secretary Michael Gove insisted no school was “being threatened” with academy status.
The Minister announced last July that the 200 worst-performing primary schools in the country would become academies in a crackdown on poor performance.
A total of 12 Birmingham schools were said to be on the list, but the Department for Education (DfE) refused to disclose which city schools were listed, saying it did not want to “name and shame schools or local authorities”.
Northfield Labour MP Richard Burden told the Post he believed the DfE was “bullying” schools into becoming academies. He said: “Even if an academy is the right decision for a school, the pressure being put on schools is completely out of order.
“There is a culture of fear, and people are looking over their shoulder and being told ‘you need to do this or your school will fail’. They [the schools] should have the right to make those judgements, in consultation with the communities they serve.
“But it should be a local decision. Not one forced on them by covert ministerial bullying.”
A DfE spokesperson said the department had worked amicably with the “vast majority of schools”, making it clear they wanted to work with schools and local authorities to improve standards.
According to criteria set by the Government, a primary school is deemed to be failing if less than 60 per cent of pupils achieve the benchmark level 4 or above in English and maths, and fail to make average progress in English and Maths for the five years to 2010.
But at West Heath Primary School – one of the 13 schools where staff have been balloted – the 2011 SATs results reveal 64 per cent of pupils scored a level four in English, and 68 per cent in maths.
Also polled for action were staff at Jervoise School in Weoley Castle, which was rated “good” by Ofsted inspectors in March 2010.
The result of the ballot is expected within days, and schools across the city are braced for closures.
Wayne Bates, general secretary of the Birmingham branch of the NASUWT, claimed there were more than 30 Birmingham primary schools who were being “targeted” for academy conversion by the DfE.
He said: “They all feel angry – we haven’t been into a single school where they have turned round and said they wanted their school to become an academy. I know of heads who are against it, but because politically their posts are on the line they don’t want to be saying it.
“The governors are also being made to feel like they have no choice.”
Mr Bates said the DfE is also contacting schools which are already improving, and have risen above floor targets.