NEU union members at Acton high school in west London began a two-day strike on Tuesday. Workers are in dispute over three issues–bullying, management’s response to behaviour issues and a planned takeover by Ark.
The Ofsted schools inspectorate failed the school, paving the way it to become a privately-run school. Between 50 and 60 strikers joined the picket line on the first day of the walkout.
Stefan Simms is divisional secretary of the NEU in Ealing. He told Socialist Worker, “People were singing and chanting on the picket line. There were lots of homemade banners and the mood was really good.
“Ambulance drivers put their sirens on when passing to show support, and lorry drivers honked their horns. We’ve had loads of messages of support.”
The head teacher and deputy head teacher at the school have been suspended by the local authority. Workers have said they’ve faced bullying, and have also criticised management’s failure to deal with behaviour issues.
But they know the solution is not academisation or Ark. “There’s a big objection to Ark taking over,” explained Stefan. “It has a bootcamp approach to how children are taught – with zero tolerance, silence in the corridors and so on.
“The school has always succeeded in dealing with behaviour problems in the past. Some children may be challenging but there’s also a relationship with staff. A lot of people have worked at the school for decades. Teachers don’t want to deal with it the way they think Ark will.”
A group of around 35-40 strikers went to Ark HQ in central London following a strike meeting and held a noisy protest outside. Stefan said, “The protest forced two senior people to come down and talk to strikers.”
Ark claimed it would talk to workers next term. But Stefan said workers are determined not to have Ark in the school. “Academies, which are government funded but privately-run, are about pushing privatisation in schools and they don’t improve standards,” he said. “They are terrible employers and don’t have the same pay and conditions as teachers in other schools.
“Ark is run by hedge fund speculators–it’s all about money for them.”