Some 45 determined strikers, students and supporters picketed outside Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic) in east London on Thursday.
Sofia is a teacher and former student. “I came here because it was an inclusive college,” she told Socialist Worker. “But now creative subjects have been taken away. For me it’s not an option to have no options.
“What the college has become is not okay. If you’re not that academic, you’re pushed out. Creative subjects are becoming reserved for middle class students.”
Sofia also said that management doesn’t care about students. “Overcrowding in the classrooms is really bad,” she said. “I’ve had students who have to write on their laps. Students then go elsewhere and we get blamed for it.
“We have so much to do, like the SMAs”.
Teachers at the college are subjected to SMA’s—Standardised Marking Assessments—where they send data to management.
“We just give whatever to get it out the way and get back to teaching,” Sofia added. “It undermines our role and isn’t part of the learning experience.”
Teachers are told to go to human resources (HR) with problems, but Sofia says they’re “part of the problem.” “I went to them once and never again after the way they treated me.
“During Covid, management definitely used isolation to keep people separated. But when we went back to face to face union meetings again, we realised a lot of us were facing similar treatment.”
Kevin Courtney, the NEU union joint general secretary, attended the picket. He told the crowd, “We shouldn’t have to be here. But we have no choice when management walks out of talks with Acas like they did last week.
“You are standing up for education. Opposing privatisation of the education system and academy trusts that run schools outside of democratic control where you can’t challenge decisions.”
He added, “You’re also standing up against bullying. When there’s no process for union representation that’s a big worry.
“SMAs are to monitor staff. Data is sent to head office without any feedback, and it’s my belief that this is wrong.”
Messages of solidarity were read out from schools, sixth forms and NEU branches in Sheffield, Brighton, Hampshire, Shrewsbury, Trafford and Islington in north London.
A student who joined the picket lines told Socialist Worker that they had to support the strike after seeing the action of management. “Students are told to only care about getting the best results to get to the top universities,” they told Socialist Worker.
“It’s all geared towards exams—everyone is suffering but management doesn’t care, only about its profits.”
Another striker told Socialist Worker, “There’s no conversation between us and management. They say they do consult us. But we’re only told about changes before everyone else. We don’t get a say.
“It’s a dictatorship. There’s only core subjects left being taught. This is a community college so removing alternative classes is short sighted.”
The striker explained that senior management figures come for six months to a year, and all want to do their own thing. Academy bosses are on salaries of up to £200,00—often with little experience of teaching.
“Everything changes, then they go. And the workload goes up.
“Experienced teachers are engineered out. Young and new teachers are hired on bad terms and leave the profession after five years because they’re burnt out.”
The NEU has now approved three more strike days for January. Strikers are pushing for up to 21 extra days of industrial action. Trade unionists should get behind the NewVic fight to defend education.
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