Teachers in the NUT union at Pimlico School, central London, struck on Wednesday of last week. The strike was sparked after lunch breaks had been cut from 45 minutes to 30 minutes.
But behind this lies a much bigger issue – the move by Westminster council to close the school and reopen it as an academy.
Pimlico School was put in “special measures” after an Ofsted inspection last year.
But the school wasn’t failing – it got record results for GCSEs and A-Levels in 2007. Only schools in special measures can be turned into academies.
An informal consultation last summer found that the vast majority of teachers, students and parents opposed the academy plan. But by then Simon Milton, the leader of the council, had already publicly stated that he wanted the school to become an academy.
The company nominated by the Tory-run council to sponsor the proposed academy is Future – a charity formed by John Nash, a prominent Tory supporter.
He founded Sovereign Capital, a private equity company – a major investor in healthcare services in Britain.
It is also the largest provider of independent special needs care in Britain. Nash now has his eye on state education.
If the academy goes ahead, the council will give a £35 million public building to a private sponsor on a lease of 125 years.
Teachers see the attack on lunch breaks as an ominous sign of things to come.
Steve Barlow is the NUT health and safety rep at Pimlico School. “There’s a trend among academies for shorter breaks which is bad for both children and teachers,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Many academies have smaller playgrounds than state schools and some have none at all. This is about confinement and control of children, not about giving them a good education.”
The building plans for the new academy have been criticised by Pimlico teachers. They point out that the new school would have less floor area and would lose a swimming pool. It raises the question of what would be done with the excess land that is not being used by the school.
Bridget Chapman is NUT membership officer for Westminster and vice chair of the Anti Academies Alliance. She said, “This is part of a massive attack on public services and public sector workers.
“It breaks my heart to see the council trying to destroy a community school.”
If Pimlico school becomes an academy, staff would be able to retain their existing terms and conditions under the Transfer of Undertakings for the Protection of Employment (TUPE) regulations.
But new staff would not be covered by the laws. Academies can also opt out of nationally negotiated terms and conditions for school support staff.
Teachers will strike again on 27 February if the academy plans go ahead. The campaign to save the school meets on Tuesdays at 6.30pm at the school.
Meanwhile, a secret Downing Street review has given a positive evaluation of the academies programme. But the example of Pimlico speaks volumes about the reality of New Labour’s flagship education policy.
Two schools in Camden, north London, were set to strike on Wednesday of this week to defend retention and recruitment payments to new staff. Watch this site for strike reports