TEACHERS AT one of the government's flagship schools in north London are balloting for strike action over intolerable conditions. The Greig City Academy in Hornsey opened in September 2002. Tony Brockman, an executive committee member of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), says, 'City academies were one of the quick fix wheezes dreamt up by the government's spin doctors. They were given extra cash by the government and in return were allowed to opt out of the state sector, becoming 'independent' schools.'
That enabled them to change teachers' conditions and introduce hare-brained schemes, supposedly to improve the 'failing schools' they were set up to replace. Promises of innovative learning have turned into a nightmare.
'Teachers will support the opening up of schools outside of normal hours for creative activities for students and the community, provided it does not extend teachers' hours and lead to worse conditions,' says Tony Brockman. 'But that requires additional staff. At Greig school you have a long Gradgrind day, which stifles creativity, leads to poor behaviour from students, and is wrecking teachers' lives.'
Management have cut the lunch break to half an hour. Teachers start with pre-school meetings at 8.10am and teach through until 4pm. There are then more meetings.
An inspection commissioned by the school (unlike state schools, it does not face mandatory inspection) blamed the length and structure of the school day for the difficulties students face. The pressure has meant that in one year some 53 out of about 70 teachers' posts have had to be filled due to high staff turnover.
The ballot for strike action is significant because the government is seeking to rapidly expand the number of city academies, so other teachers and students will face similar pressures.