Around 70 people formed a loud, confident picket line at Forest Hill School for boys in Lewisham, south east London, today, Tuesday.
Parents and children joined NUT union members who were striking against compulsory redundancies and increased workload.
The school faces £1.3 million in cuts as part of a “recovery plan” with Labour-run Lewisham council. It threatens to slash support staff and teachers at a time when jobs have already been cut.
Yet the school spends nearly £1 million a year on a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract—over 10 percent of its budget.
Teacher Kate told Socialist Worker, “We don’t think this job is sustainable if the cuts go ahead. We had 25 teaching assistants but now we’re down to just eight.”
Striker Chloe added, “There were redundancies before Christmas. And they have cut most of the midday meals supervisors. It’s less safe for children as there isn’t anyone around to watch them.
“If the other cuts go through it will reduce the school day and the curriculum. Religious Education will no longer be an option. And Modern Foreign Languages would be expected to teach English as an Additional Language support next year.”
NUT rep Joe told Socialist Worker that the biggest worry for workers is “how this impacts on the boys”.
“Our school has performing arts specialisms,” he said. “To see that potentially marginalised is very sad.
“Being able to create engaging lessons and give students quality feedback takes time. But the cuts would mean teachers with only three hours of planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time a week.”
There’s widespread anger over the cuts in the area among parents. Parents and teachers planned to lobby a meeting of the Lewisham mayor and cabinet at Catford Town Hall on Wednesday this week. NUT members plan a two-day strike on Wednesday and Thursday of next week.
Parent Zoe set up the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group and was among several parents on the picket line. “I’m worried for my son’s education,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I chose this school for the staff. The teachers are brilliant and I could see how they cared for the boys. It won’t be the same school after the cuts.”
Like many, Zoe said she was “furious” at the council. “They’ve told us they don’t do in-depth audits of school budgets any more,” she said. “It’s not good enough. This is public money and it’s our school and our children.”
Striker Jacob said the council had been too “dismissive” of workers. “The council could be much more supportive of their local school,” he said. “It’s a Labour council but they have basically said, it’s your deficit, deal with it.
“They could renegotiate the PFI deal and allow it to be paid over a longer period.”
Joe added, “Local Labour branches have passed motions supporting us, but we need the council to defend the school. We want them to fight for us.
“It’s not the boys’ fault we have a deficit. The staff didn’t cause the deficit. It’s mismanagement.”
Many strikers are proud to work in a community school and fear the cuts would destroy that. They described how staff have worked at the school for decades – and that cuts will lead to a higher turnover and more insecurity for children.
But they also feel they can beat the cuts. Zoe said, “We can make the council do something about this. I started the campaign group and within 24 hours we had 100 members. It just keeps growing. There’s lots of buzz around it.”
“We’ve had so many messages of support from other unions and parents,” added Joe. “We have to win.”