Workers at Cumberland School in Newham struck today against a plan to turn their school into an academy. Upbeat strikers chanted, “Our school is not for sale,” and, “Whose school? Our school,” on the picket line.
Striker Angela told Socialist Worker, “There are children with autism here who have one to one support. We’re worried that will be taken away.
“Children with autism need a lot of support and they can progress, but you don’t see the results straight away. It took one boy four years to sign hello to us in the mornings.
“We worry that they will say the support is not worth keeping.”
But as striker Michael put it, “They can’t learn without it.”
Cumberland is a mainstream school that supports children with special needs. Michael, like other strikers, worried that cuts to provision could push autistic children out of the school.
“It’s very encouraging that autistic children get the chance to socialise with other children,” he said. “They are encouraged to be more independent.
“Some of our children won’t get to a stage where they will take GCSEs. But academies are known for pushing out children who they think will push down the results.”
Teacher Anna added, “We’re in the centre of the poorest district in Newham, which is the poorest borough in Britain. Pastoral support for children is really important, but in other academies this has been cut.”
Strikers said academisation could see attacks on pay, pensions, conditions and jobs.
But many also opposed privatisation in education on principle.
Teaching assistant (TA) Kim said, “This is all about filling the pockets of the CEO.
“They are not thinking about the little people and they are not thinking about the children.”
Parents from neighbouring schools joined the picket line to show support.
Aysha is a parent at Hallsville primary school, which is set to become part of a Multi Academy Trust with Keir Hardie school. “I have two children at Hallsville and it is an outstanding school,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We cannot allow them to take it over and make a mess of it.”
A parent at Keir Hardie added, “Parents at our school are fully supportive of our upcoming strike. We’ve had two parents’ consultations on academisation and both were extremely hostile to it.”
He said the head had so far refused to allow a ballot of parents and workers on the plan.
Strikers at Cumberland said their head told them the school was going to become an academy without giving parents or workers any say. “We felt we had no option,” explained Angela. “Some parents don’t even know about it.”
Nishi, a TA, said, “They say nothing is going to change. But our contracts will no longer be with the council. We can win if we all stick together.”
The strike comes as there is mounting opposition to academies in Newham – and to privatisation generally across Britain. NEU members held a two-day strike last week at Avenue school.
NEU members at three schools – Cumberland, Avenue and Keir Hardie – plan a coordinated walkout on 22 February.
And school workers, parents and other trade unionists plan to protest against Newham council on 26 February.
NEU rep Carolyn explained that the future academy boss is already in the school and planning to inspect lessons. “It’s fantastic to see how strong this strike is given the pressure people are under to bow down to our new boss,” she told Socialist Worker.
“We have over 100 NEU members in the school now. This picket line is bigger and stronger than our first one in January. There is no need for them to academise this school.”
Striker Yasmin said the solidarity on the picket line was “wonderful”. “I am optimistic about this,” she told Socialist Worker. “We can make a difference.”