Socialist Worker

Selwyn school teachers stand up to bullying

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2253

Pickets outside Selwyn primary school on Tuesday of this week  (Pic: Smallman )

Pickets outside Selwyn primary school on Tuesday of this week (Pic: Guy Smallman)

More than 30 pickets and supporters gathered outside Selwyn primary school in Waltham Forest, east London, on Tuesday of this week.

Support staff from the school and other trade unionists stood in solidarity with striking NUT union members, who are fighting an extraordinarily bullying head teacher.

They won a fantastic 100 percent vote for strikes in a recent ballot.

The head, Maureen Okoye, arrived at the school in January for a temporary period. Teachers say she has created an intimidating atmosphere for workers and damaged children’s education.

Strikers held placards reading, “Our working environment is your child’s learning environment”.

One striker who teaches seven year olds told Socialist Worker, “The head has changed the curriculum and made us focus more on tests.

“We have less time to do all the nice things that we used to do. She has tried to change everything. She even threatened to put the fish down the toilet!

“A lot of teachers are leaving. But we have to see it through now—we can’t run like wimps.”

Rinaldo Frezzato, divisional secretary of Waltham Forest NUT, told Socialist Worker that the head had brought “dictatorship and bullying” to the school. An NUT health and safety survey found extreme levels of stress among teachers.

“Teachers have been told in front of others that they’re inadequate,” said Rinaldo. “The head has told parents that the teaching at the school is ‘shocking’.

“The only time anyone started to listen to teachers was when we balloted for strikes.”


Eight teachers on temporary contracts received letters out of the blue informing them that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed.

They say they have been given no explanation for the letters. “I was given the letter while parents were arriving to collect their children,” said one teacher. “How would you feel if you were treated like that?”

Teaching assistants in the Unison union came to the picket line to show support too. One, who has worked at the school for 11 years, described how the school “used to be a very happy school” before the new head arrived.

Ursla Hawthorne, the NUT rep at the school, said the head was trying to “turn the clock back” in terms of how children are taught.

“Parents tell us that children go home now talking about what ‘level’ they are at,” she said. “Children’s names are on the wall to show what group they are in. But these ideas were thrown out years ago.”

And the head has tried to impose change on every aspect of the school.

“She sees everything we do as wrong—including our planning, the way we teach, the structure of our day, our topics and the layout of classrooms” said Ursla.

“But the mood is incredibly determined and united.”

One of the changes the temporary head has imposed is a ban on music in the school. So strikers cheered when one teacher drove past in her car playing music out of the window.

Several drivers honked their horns as they passed to show their support.

Teachers plan to escalate their action with a two-day strike after half term and then further action if the dispute isn’t resolved.

Despite the intimidation, teachers have shown their determination to fight and have won widespread support. Escalating is the way to win.

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