With continuing strikes in three schools NEU union members in Newham, east London, are showing the determination not to let more of our schools become academies.
NEU union members at Avenue school in Newham began a three-day strike on Tuesday, following seven days of strikes. They plan a further three-day walkout from next Tuesday in a battle to stop their school becoming an academy.
Two other Newham schools, Keir Hardie and Cumberland, are also striking this week. Keir Hardie is out on Wednesday and Thursday this week, while Cumberland workers plan to strike on Thursday and next Thursday.
Picket lines are lively and confident. Parents joined the picket at Keir Hardie on Wednesday. The head kept the school open but GMB union members refused to cover strikers’ classes. They called in their union rep, who backed them.
At Avenue Primary the support from parents remains tremendous, with chants, placards and leaflets in eight languages demanding a parents’ ballot on the academy plans.
At Keir Hardie, parents and carers have showed their support for the strikers, joined picket lines and have started an online petition. There is dismay that a head who seemed anti-academy at first was in fact already a Trustee of the multi-academy trust (MAT) trying to take over the school.
At Cumberland the Community Schools Trust MAT has already moved in. It’s given children and staff a taste of the CST academy model with cuts to services to the most vulnerable pupils.
This has galvanised more opposition, with some pupils mounting their own protest.
Newham council’s recent vote to halt academisation until schools complete fair staff and parent ballots has boosted everyone in the campaign.
The union is pushing for the council and governing bodies to follow through on this policy. Already Lyn Brown, the West Ham Labour MP, and a councillor have been embarrassed into resigning from positions on the MAT trying to take over Cumberland School.
Pressure from the strikes and parents’ lobbies mean that what was seen as an unchallenged handover of our schools to unaccountable academy trusts has been transformed into a battle for democratic rights.
The union’s request for ballots has been ignored and refused by the employers. This has shown up their fear of the community having a say.
Many other schools in the borough are discussing academisation. But now new union reps, school groups and union meetings are springing into action. Governing bodies and heads can no longer hand over public assets without public scrutiny.
An initiative for a partnership of Newham schools choosing not to academise has taken its first steps following the model of Hackney Federation and Redbridge Education Partnership. This can provide an alternative which can keep our schools in council and community control.
Governing bodies and headteachers will face a fight when they ignore the council, their staff and parents.