There was a festive mood on the picket line as workers at The John Roan School began a three-day strike on Tuesday. GMB union members wearing Santa hats and playing Christmas songs were joined by NEU union members who refused to cross their picket line.
The workers are fighting against a plan to turn the Greenwich school into an academy.
Teaching assistant Matilda told Socialist Worker, “I’m mostly worried about the students. We’ve got a great group of support staff in the school now, and that’s especially important for children with special educational needs.
“But with academies it’s all about grades and not about the wellbeing of the children.”
The UST chain withdrew as a sponsor for the new academy at The Joan Roan school in Greenwich in December.
Parents and workers who have fought the academy plan at the south east London school said they were “relieved and extremely pleased”.
But the fight isn’t over. The school’s governing body has been replaced with an imposed Interim Executive Board (IEB).
And strikers are furious that the plan for the school to be run by the UST academy chain has already seen money leeched from the school.
Campaigners say figures show that some £551,000 was spent on “consultancy” at John Roan last year. And £438,000 has been earmarked for “consultancy” this year.
Cleaning supervisor Tammy told Socialist Worker, “The amount of money wasted is unbelievable. They’ve taken all the money before they’ve even started.”
Cleaner Margaret told Socialist Worker, “The academy will just see all the money go out of the school. Children can end up left with nothing. They will mess you around – you might make business one day, but the next day it can fall.
“We shouldn’t be putting business first. I have to stand up for my life.”
The academy will just see all the money go out of the school
Workers have already been threatened with cuts. Matilda said, “They sent us an email saying they’re looking at cuts. And you know it’s not going to be cuts at higher levels. We’re understaffed as it is.”
Teachers in the NEU union refused to cross strikers’ picket lines for a second time on Tuesday. The union suspended their official strikes after Greenwich Labour council threatened a legal challenge.
NEU member Lorraine told Socialist Worker, “I’ve got to support the GMB strike. I’m against privatisation – we’ve seen it on the railways and it’s not a good thig. You can’t put a price on children’s lives or education. It’s immoral.”
Tim Woodcock, divisional secretary of Greenwich NEU, told Socialist Worker, “Teachers are bravely refusing to cross the picket line. You have the right to do that.
“We have a high level of unity and we are all fighting about the same thing.”
Matilda said it was “a really nice feeling” seeing teachers refuse to cross picket lines.
At a public meeting last week teachers, assistants, parents and others heard Professor Howard Stevenson call for a radical movement “placing democracy at the heart of a new education service”.
He said that we need “to reverse the 30-year dismantling of the welfare state” and that “these campaigns can be a springboard for that”.
GMB national president Barbara Plant made clear that the opposition to academisation is a fight against privatisation.
NEU union national officers are backing the campaign, but official NEU financial support for their solidarity action isn’t legally possible. To keep the solidarity going, the parent campaign group is asking for contributions.
There is enormous opposition to the academy plan. Yet workers discovered on Monday that the school’s governing body is to be disbanded and replaced with an Interim Executive Board (IEB). The government has imposed IEBs elsewhere to push through academies.
The GMB had suggested suspending the first day of the strike if certain demands were met. But at a meeting to discuss the demands, it said the head teacher didn’t show up.
Tammy said workers were “not happy” with the idea that strikes could be suspended. “We all emailed the union back to say no – we want to strike,” she said. “It has actually spurred more people on to strike.”
The size of the picket lines, and the support strikers have won from other trade unionists and parents, shows the mood against academisation. Workers will need to ramp up their action, and keep working with parents, in order to win.
Workers at The Barclay School in Stevenage were set to strike on Wednesday. The walkout by NEU union members is against a planned forced academisation of the school.
Some 96 percent of NEU members who voted backed strikes in a ballot. And parents are opposing academisation too.
Over 1,300 people have signed a petition against the academy plan. Parents planned to hand in the petition to Downing Street this week.
Schools inspectorate Ofsted rated the school inadequate in 2016.
It was placed in special measures then put under an academy order by the Department for Education.
It is now rated as requiring improvement with elements of good.
The NEU and parents are calling for a public consultation and a ballot of on the plan.
Peter Hawkins from parents’ campaign group Hands off Barclay said parents “wholeheartedly support the proposed strike to safeguard the future of the school”.
School NEU rep Jill Borcherds said workers are “proud” of the improvements at the school but now faced “a period of great uncertainty”.
Paul McLaughlin, eastern regional NEU secretary, said, “The academy trusts are non-accountable private bodies that can employ unqualified teachers and pay excessive executive salaries.
“We are forced to take action to defend the school from a hostile takeover.”
Bosses have offered college workers a pay “rise” of 1 percent. The derisory offer comes after a successful 48-hour strike by UCU union members at six colleges last month.
Bigger college strikes loom in the New Year. The UCU is balloting members across 26 colleges for strikes over pay.
The ballots end on 19 December. And the Unison union has said it will ballot its members in colleges in England in January.
Meanwhile, some 32 members of the Socialist Teachers Alliance have been elected to the NEU union’s national executive committee.
The executive has 72 members. Ten of the 32 STA members elected are Socialist Worker supporters. These are Debs Gwynn, Chris Denson, Sheena Wheatley, Sally Kincaid, Simon Murch, Jean Evanson, John Reddiford, Warren Chambers, Stefan Simms and Jess Edwards.
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