Workers at The John Roan school in Greenwich, south east London, struck on Wednesday. The NEU union members are fighting a plan to turn the school into a privately-run academy.
Strikers were upbeat on the picket line, defying the weather by playing Singing in The Rain. Lots of motorists hooted their horns in support as they passed by. And supporters from other London anti-academy campaigns, and the local trades council, joined the picket line in solidarity.
Governors and the head want the school to become an academy run by the UST chain, following an Ofsted rating of inadequate earlier this year. But strikers said the academy plan came before that.
“UST has had its fingers all over this school for some time,” striker Andy told Socialist Worker. “It has become obvious that there has been a plan to force the school to become an academy whether we like it or not.”
John Roan NUT, part of the NEU, has pointed to evidence that the academy plan predates the Ofsted inspection. Its website said that head teacher Cath Smith told parents she was “brought in by the UST to help with the transition to academy under the UST”.
Smith became head at the school in February, and the Ofsted inspection took place in March. “How did she know she was going to help with the transition to academisation if we hadn’t yet been ‘failed’ by Ofsted,” it asked.
Workers fear that academisation will mean a worse education for children, and worse conditions for them. Josie teaches art at the school. “It doesn’t seem that academies value arts subjects,” she told Socialist Worker.
“I worry that they might get cut back or cut altogether.”
Newly qualified teacher Luke added, “I think the provision I receive might not be as supportive if the school becomes an academy.”
Josie opposes the plan because it “feels like the privatisation of education”. “Some say it’s the law that we have to become an academy because of the Ofsted rating,” she said.
“But it’s a very wobbly law. Somebody has to stand up to it and get it changed.”
Kirstie, the joint NEU rep at the school, told Socialist Worker, “At least 16 schools have had academy orders revoked. We have parents, children, grandparents and carers who oppose academisation.
“If we all unite, we can stop it.”
Strikers complained they’d been given the impression that the academy plan is a done deal. And they’ve been told that academisation will be good for the school. But they know this is all rubbish.
“This isn’t about education or results,” said Andy. “The school owns millions of pounds worth of land. UST is nearly bankrupt. This is about cheating the community out of valuable property and assets.”
Workers have had a taste of what a school run by UST might look like. “One person from UST said parents aren’t stakeholders in the school,” said Andy. “If parents aren’t stakeholders, I don’t know who is.”
Many parents are backing the strikers, although a smaller group have opposed the strikes. Josie said, “Some people say striking disrupts education, but an academy would be much more disruptive. Academies have CEOs taking big salaries. They don’t necessarily spend money on things that are needed.”
She said it had been a “hard choice” for many to strike. “But there doesn’t seem to be another effective way to get people to listen,” she said. “The only way to stop it is to strike.”
Kirstie said that NEU members have voted to escalate and hope to take three more days of strikes later this month.
Luke said, “After today we need to step things up. We have the support of parents and workers in the GMB union. If we carry on pushing, we can win.”