Militant mass pickets gathered outside Norlington boys' school in Leyton, east London, this morning as teachers took part in their first day of strike action against plans to merge the school with two others to create a Trust school.
The strike, called by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), closed the school for the day, and looks set to be the first of many. Rinaldo Frezzato, the union's branch secretary at the school, told Socialist Worker, “We hope to take more action before the end of term at the end of this month.
“I think the head thinks that this is just a one day protest and we'll go away. But we voted unanimously for discontinuous strike action. I hope that our next strike will be for two day. We need to escalate the action.”
Governors at Norlington have backed the Trust plans, which would see the school merged with nearby Beaumont Primary and George Mitchell schools. The new Trust would be outside of local authority control. Teachers at Norlington have been told that the plans may result in them losing their jobs.
The strength of feeling against the Trust plans among teachers was evident from the size of the picket lines. More than 20 pickets were outside – in a school that has around 30 NUT members.
Helen Lyons is one of the strikers. “The main problem with the Trust is the lack of accountability and the impact it would have on local democracy,” she told Socialist Worker. “The Trust would be answerable to the governors and the head, rather than the local council, and we don't trust them.”
There was a huge level of anger and frustration at the current headteacher, Jennifer Bax, and the way the school is being run.
Strikers report that many teachers have left the school in frustration at the atmosphere.
Many of those on the picket line complained of increased observations and monitoring. It may be indicative of the culture of the school that some strikers didn't want to give their names.
“This used to be a really lovely school,” said one picket. “But now there is no trust left in the leadership. It's heartbreaking to see people trying to work in increasingly difficult conditions and not being able to do their job properly.”
Nick Grant from the NUT's national executive, Darren O'Grady from Waltham Forest Trades Council and Mike Barton from the UCU lecturers' union came to congratulate the teachers on their action.
“There are two ways to deal with the recession,” Darren told the pickets. “One is what some at BA have done and agreed to work for nothing. The other is what workers at Lindsey Oil Refinery did when they stood up, fought for their jobs and won.
“I'm delighted that you have taken this action today.”
Nick Grant pointed to the significance of the action. “This is historic – the first time that the NUT has taken strike action specifically over Trust status,” he said. “The NUT is opposed to any moves away from community status for schools and we will work to get further dates for action as soon as possible.”
Some teachers were going to a meeting with UCU members at the Institute of Education, which would take over control of the new Trust, despite the fact that many UCU members are opposed to it. Others planned to leaflet George Mitchell school this afternoon.