A militant, lively picket took place on Thursday at Leaways school in Hackney, east London with strikers—young, old, black and white—booing management and greeting students.
Leaways is an independent special school, with a focus on Autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and SEMH (Social, Emotional, Mental Health Needs). It currently has over 80 students from Hackney and neighbouring boroughs.
It is situated in an old warehouse/factory unit with no outside space.
Staff—44 out of 53 of them are in the NEU union—struck for a day this week and further strikes are planned for the next two weeks.
They believe that students are being short-changed and are demanding that more resources be put into the specialist support that students need. This includes counselling and smaller class sizes, all with a teaching assistant attached.
They have won union recognition, but also want parity with staff in state schools, including open, transparent pay scales and proper sick pay. They currently only have seven days sick pay, and management openly admit this is to discourage absence.
Leaways is part of a wider chain, the Kedleston Group, which runs 13 schools, with 133 residential and 402 days places, and is planning to open a new school in Enfield.
It is registered in Jersey—a tax haven. It claims to have barely broken even in the year ending 2019 and is paying off debts that are larger than its annual turnover.
It’s unclear how much Hackney and other boroughs pay for each child placed here—estimates suggest it could be between £55,000 and £65,000 a year, perhaps double the cost of a child in a local maintained special school.
Hackney, like other boroughs, pays massive amounts into private institutions like this every year. Instead of outsourcing provision and helping private companies pay off their debts, that money could go into supporting inclusion in local schools and providing decent conditions for students to learn in and staff to work in.