Strikes at a primary school in Ealing, west London, have scored a significant victory in a battle against academies.
NUT union members at Drayton Green primary school took five days of strikes against the possibility of their school being turned into an academy. This week a chair of governors’ meeting agreed that any changes to the school’s status will be delayed.
They would have to be agreed by trade unions and parents’ groups. And the chair of governors, who had been key to pushing academisation, resigned.
Ealing NUT branch secretary Stefan Simms explained how the result came about. “At first union members were reluctant to strike,” he said. “In primary schools teachers often feel very protective of children and they feel pressure not to strike.
“At the beginning of this dispute they would likely have settled for far less. But the governing body wouldn’t negotiate and wouldn’t budge. They were arrogant and inflamed the situation. So we had five days of strikes – no primary school in Ealing’s history has ever done that.”
Stefan said speaking to parents was key to the dispute too. Several public meetings saw a majority of parents oppose academisation. Although Stefan added it would be best to hold a parents’ meeting before the first strike.
He also described the impact that fighting back had on workers. “Once teachers were on strike, they didn’t need any more encouragement,” he said. “They had changed. It took a lot of gentle persuasion but then whoosh – away they went.”
Some in the unions are pessimistic about the potential to fight attacks on education and on teachers. They sometimes argue that there isn’t a mood to fight. But Ealing has shown that this mood can be built – if there’s a will to do it.
“We have blocked three schools from converting to academy status in Ealing now,” said Stefan. “We’ve shown academies can be stopped. It’s a good lesson for schools in other areas facing academy threats, such as Tower Hamlets.”
This Sunday parents, teachers, children and others will gather in London to demand fair funding for all schools. The action comes as the Tories plan to slash school funding in England by £3 billion a year by 2020.
The Tories haven't yet responded to a consultation on the cuts held earlier in the year - but they are under severe pressure to back down. Unions and campaigners must keep the pressure on to make sure they don't get away with their attacks on education.