Some 51 workers at Little Ilford School struck for their fifth day on Wednesday. It is the second day of a three-day strike over unacceptable working conditions and the expansion of the east London school.
NEU union members are fighting the forcible expansion of the school from 1,470 pupils to 1,800. They say this will harm the quality of education and hit support for vulnerable children.
As the latest walkout got underway on Tuesday, the four-strong rep team reported on their second long meeting with the head teacher, governors and council. The union had demanded an extra 13 staff – they were offered the equivalent of 2.2.
One of the reps, Kate, told a strike rally that the senior leadership team had rejected the union case for more teaching assistants. Kate said they had also said there were no EMA – Ethnic Minority Achievement – students at the school who need extra support, which is clearly not the case.
Some 24 percent of students at the school have special educational needs. It has the highest number of students receiving free school meals in Newham, one of the most deprived boroughs in Britain. And the vast majority of children are from homes where another language is spoken.
Striker Tony was not surprised that workers had been given such a derisory offer. “They’re not looking at the problems,” he told Socialist Worker.
“Who picks up the pieces? We do. They don’t know what it’s like, sitting in their offices. All these problems can be resolved.”
Beth, another rep, said the school’s claims about money don’t add up. “We were told if the school paid for the extra staff the union wanted, there would be a deficit for two years,” she told Socialist Worker.
“But they also said the school could be clear of this in three years. They could even take a loan out from the borough to cover it. But they were not willing to do this. They’re not taking us seriously.”
Tim has been a Little Ilford teacher for 37 years and is a long-standing union rep. He told Socialist Worker, “It’s peanuts, the kind of thing we’re looking for. You would think we were asking for stained glass windows and chandeliers hanging from the dining room ceiling!
“They wanted us to compromise on staff working space. But working space isn’t a luxury – it’s a basic necessity.”
Tony argued that “the money’s there” and that bosses “need to invest it to improve the school now”.
“They’ve just finished a rebuild,” he explained. “The staff were not involved, we were excluded, and then we’re told they spent £32 million.
“Next time they’re not going to get away with it, the union will have a say.”
Other strikers echoed this determination and confidence. Besnik told Socialist Worker, “They didn’t expect us to do this. They thought they could promise it would be all right and that would be it.
“But if there’s going to be more building, we want a better school this time.”
This week’s strike follows a successful two-day walkout last week and a 24-hour strike the week before. The action is encouraging more workers at the school to get involved.
Natalie left the NASUWT union to join the NEU when she saw how the new reps were organising. “I knew with the four of them at the helm we could do so much,” she said.
Kate confirmed that the NEU group had recruited six or seven new members since September, particularly among support staff. She said, “They joined to get a voice, get some agency back, some dignity, not to be so marginalised. They know we are going to fight together for the good of the kids.”
NEU members plan to strike again on 8 and 9 December, and have agreed further strikes going into the New Year.
Newham NEU secretary Louise Cuffaro and Michael Gavan, NEU regional officer, have been supporting the Little Ilford strikers. Louise said a meeting with parents, who have been hardly been consulted on the plans, will be organised to support the next walkout.
Tony said, “We should strike until they understand we are serious. I love this school. I’m looking at the bigger picture. I want to do what’s right for the school.”
And Tim said, “They say they care about the standard of education in Newham. Well they need to step up to the plate and prove themselves in the case of Little Ilford.”