Strikers, parents and supporters rallied in east London on Thursday as NEU union members at three schools struck against academies.
Workers at the Newham schools—Avenue, Cumberland and Keir Hardie—came to the meeting from big picket lines. There was a confident mood but also a sense of urgency. At Avenue, governors will meet on 29 March to decide whether to convert the school to an academy.
Governors plan to academise at Keir Hardie on 19 April, while at Cumberland the process is already underway.
Avenue striker Sabia told Socialist Worker, “This has not been transparent. During the consultation I went in with an open mind, but they didn’t sell it to me. And they only answered the questions they wanted to answer.
“I started thinking, what have they got to hide? I got suspicious.”
It was the tenth day of strikes at Avenue, where workers have struck since Tuesday. Those at Keir Hardie struck for two days from Wednesday, while Cumberland joined the action on Thursday.
Avenue workers plan a three-day strike from next Tuesday and Cumberland workers are set to strike against next Wednesday.
Pressure from the strikes and the wider anti-academy campaign pushed Newham councillors to pass a motion last month opposing academisation. They called on schools to hold ballots and encouraged schools not to become academies.
Signs in a number of languages decorated the room of the strike rally demanding a ballot. Yet heads and governing bodies are continuing to refuse ballots.
Keir Hardie NEU rep Bethan said some workers had crossed picket lines as they were “losing faith” that their voice would be heard. “But the majority have continued to strike and we have grown stronger,” she added. “We have gained about five members just to strike this week.”
She said that workers felt “really empowered” by taking part in strikes.
Parent Kevin spoke after resigning as Keir Hardie’s chair of governors this morning. “I can speak my mind at last,” he said to cheers.
“There is no case for academisation,” he said. “And there’s even less of a case for federations.”
He described how schools in other areas have worked in partnership without becoming academies. “They all work together as a family without that ethos of business and competition,” he said.
Bethan said some parents still didn’t know about the academy plans. Strikers slammed the so-called “consultations” and bosses’ failure to reach all parents.
Sabia told Socialist Worker, “Our school is a multicultural school and we wanted them to send out information in different languages.
“But it only went out in English. And it was meant to be posted, but they just gave it to children to take home.”
Cumberland NEU rep Carolyn said the council has “let us down”. But she added that strikers and campaigners had “made a difference” in pressuring the council and building the union group.
Carolyn slammed the idea that schools should be run like businesses that simply focus on results. “The community needs something more than GCSE results,” she said to applause. “This is a fight about inclusion and defending a community school.”
That sentiment is driving many of those who are involved in the anti-academy struggle. Avenue striker Paula told Socialist Worker, “We should be keeping community schools for children. There should be no privatisation—they’re not doing it for the children.”
Many strikers said bosses were already making cuts in their schools and that these are hitting children who need extra support. They warned that academisation would see more vulnerable children pushed out of the schools.
One Cumberland striker told Socialist Worker, “Newham should consider alternatives to academies. What will this mean for the most vulnerable children? Where is there for them to go?”
Strikers and parents stressed the need to pile pressure on Newham mayor Robin Wales and also governors in schools in the coming days. Councillor John Whitworth appealed to campaigners to keep up the struggle and make sure councillors don’t backtrack.
Many were optimistic. Miriam from Newham Against Academisation said the resistance in Newham was now “national news”.
“There are reps being recruited at schools across the borough that are under threat,” she said. “They’re having union meetings—they’ve never had them before.
“They’re learning you can say no collectively. This is galvanising people throughout the borough.”