Socialist Worker

School strikes are part of a big fight over the future of education

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2601

There have been large pickets during the strike

There have been large pickets during the strike


Workers at Connaught School for Girls in Waltham Forest ended a three-day strike on Thursday in a battle over pay. NEU union members are demanding the higher inner London pay rate at the outer London school.

Paul is an NEU rep at the school. “We’ve had a really good week picketing,” he told Socialist Worker. “The mood has been excellent. Local activists including people in the Labour Party have leafletted other schools with us.

“We have built up a level of activity and confidence.”

Workers had already taken four days of strikes before this week’s three-day walkout. If the dispute is not resolved, they plan more strikes on 1, 2, 3, 9 and 10 May. And they have had lots of messages of support, including from the NEU president and ex-president.

Paul said, “Our members are crystal clear that they have been more than reasonable in trying to resolve the dispute. But union officials have said there’s been no attempt to contact them. We are always willing to talk. But talks have to be on the basis that there is a serious offer.”

Committed

Five other schools in the north east London borough already pay teachers the inner London pay rate. “If you’re a teacher in Waltham Forest, you know there’s the potential to earn more,” said Paul. “Teachers have shown they are committed to staying in our school.

“But the cost of living is going up. We need to feel valued.”

The action comes after the NEU agreed to launch a “vigorous campaign” over pay at its annual conference in Brighton last month. The union has demanded a 5 percent rise following years of real-terms pay cuts.

Other local pay fights are taking place too. In East Sussex, NEU members across five schools are set to strike on 24 April and 3 May.

The walkouts will hit Priory School Lewes, Uckfield Community Technology College, St Catherine’s College Eastbourne, Peacehaven Community School and Seaford Head School. Newer and lower paid workers have been denied the 2 percent pay rise that was recommended by the School Teachers’ Pay Review Body.

NEU rep Phil Clarke said, “I can see no good argument why teachers should be paid less in East Sussex than in most of the rest of the country.

“This will only discourage teachers from working in East Sussex schools.”

Paul said the Connaught strike is driven by concern about the recruitment and retention of teachers. “If we can’t recruit and retain teachers, it damages children’s education,” he said. But he added that moves by the national union to fight over pay have boosted morale.

“We can see that our strikes are part of a much bigger campaign over pay,” he said.


Newham says no to academy plans

The strikes are building pressure on the academy bosses

The strikes are building pressure on the academy bosses (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Newham, east London school strikes against academisation continued this week as workers walked out at Avenue Primary, now on their 14th day of action. NEU union members at nearby Cumberland Secondary saw its seventh day of strikes. 

And six more days of action are planned for the next two weeks. 

Education workers are striking because of a proposed takeover of the schools from a Multi Academy Trust (MAT).

Despite a very clear message that staff want to keep their schools with the local authority, at neither school have the governing bodies even met to discuss the situation. 

NEU union joint secretary Kevin Courtney came to Cumberland the day before the strikes this week and met the Head and Chair of Governors in an effort to resolve the dispute. 

Bosses claim that they are legally bound to continue with academisation plans. But the union has shown that the employer's argument is bogus.

The governing body is perfectly able to vote against academisation and withdraw their application to become part of a MAT. 

For many staff, and for parents who joined the picket on this week's strike, the threat to inclusion is one aspect driving their determination to fight. 

Sharon, a parent of two Special Education Needs (SEN) students said, “In an academy they'll get pushed out and forgotten about”. 

Addressing the gathering, Sharon's daughter Hope explained, “We're not being told what is happening but the changes to inclusion are already having an impact”. 

SEN teacher Steve challenged the way that the progress of SEN students was being presented by the management. 

Staff expressed their distrust of the raft of new interventions that had hit staff and students through the year, many coming from the CEO of the proposed MAT. Teachers said they worried that, “the passion and caring staff of our school won't fit the data-driven academy model”. 

The campaign in Newham is having an effect. The governing body at Eastlea secondary school met in the Easter holidays and voted against academisation. 

And at Calverton Primary, the NEU members are proceeding to an indicative ballot for strikes. 

It is the pressure of action in defence of community schools that is driving the direction of travel away from the MATs and the private interests they serve. 

by Miriam Scharf


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