Teachers and school support staff at three London schools are on strike today, Thursday, against cuts. Workers at Forest Hill School in Lewisham, south east London, are on the second day of a two-day walkout.
And teachers at Parkwood Primary School and the Inclusion and Specialist Support Team (ISST) in Hackney, east London, are striking too.
NUT union members are furious at cuts that will hurt the most vulnerable children. Their colleagues in the Unison union refused to cross the picket line, after hearing that management wouldn’t discipline them. Strikers gave them some of their strike pay to compensate for their loss of pay.
The ISST supports children with disabilities and special educational needs (SEN). Yet Hackney council wants to slash its Early Support Team by over half.
The team currently supports 286 children with complex needs and gives extra support to 400 others.
Striker Olutoyin started working there after receiving support herself. “My son was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old,” she told Socialist Worker.
“He’d bang his head against the wall and he never spoke a word. I didn’t know what to do. But the team taught me how to support him.”
Lydia is a specialist teacher for children with autism. She told Socialist Worker, “We identify children with SEN in nurseries and playgroups, and support children as they move to primary school.
“If our service is cut, children will arrive at primary school without support.
"Schools won’t want to take them. As it is there are 12 refusals for every school that will take a child.”
Karol Kijewski, a specialist teacher for visually impaired children, explained, “Teachers don’t have the expertise or the time to do what we do.
“Our support is very important for children’s development. Without it, they don’t reach their full potential. We prepare them for adulthood.”
Hackney NUT equalities officer Richard Rieser agreed.
“Early identification is crucial,” he said. “If conditions aren’t identified they get worse. So this can affect children’s entire lives.”
Olutoyin also stressed the huge impact support has. “My son went to a mainstream school and he’s at college now,” she said.
“The support he had made him what he is today. The cuts aren’t fair—I want every parent to have what my son had.
“I wish the councillors would come into an early years setting with us and see the difference we make.”
There is strong support for the strike. Passing parents stopped to chat to pickets and took leaflets. Workers voted by 100 percent for strikes on an 86 percent turnout.
Strikers plan further walkouts in the summer term.
Richard said the money is there to fund the service. “The council is advertising a school improvement plan job for £72,000 a year,” he said.
“That’s increasing bureaucracy while cutting frontline jobs.”
Lydia said they felt there was a nasty agenda at work. “It feels like the ulterior motive is to go back to segregated schools,” she said.
“That’s what it used to be like decades ago—and society was more segregated too."