Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/668/11933
Management failures force school strike
Paul Gerrard, Bury NUT
On 7 April 70 teachers, members of teaching unions NUT and NASUWT, went on joint strike at Darwen Vale High School, Blackburn, Lancashire, and closed the school.
The strike was widely reported, particularly since the issue was pupil behaviour.
The Daily Mail decried the "new low in Britain's education system" and linked it to a speech by the Director of the British Chambers of Commerce about - you guessed it - 'school leavers unfit for work'. Are things really that bad in the school?
According to Ofsted's June 2010 inspection: "behaviour as observed by inspectors on corridors, around the school site and in most lessons is good". For all Ofsted's faults, this judgement was probably not wide of the mark.
What happened in between then and now was the appointment of a new head.
Under the new regime the autumn term saw a rapid decline in behaviour in the school, especially over the issue of mobile phones and the disruption caused in lessons.
The school's policy was to confiscate them if students were found using them in lessons, and for them to be returned at the end of the day. But some persistent offenders successfully demanded phones back from senior staff before the end of the day, and the teachers felt undermined by management.
At the same time several members of staff were suspended where pupils had maliciously alleged assault. Apart from the disruptive effect on education this will have cost the school a fortune in supply teachers, which may go some way to explaining the large deficit at the head's previous school in Knowsley.
Simon Jones, secretary of Blackburn with Darwen NUT and NUT executive member, spoke to the Socialist: "No one wants to demonise the children here, they are no better or no worse than any others.
"The biggest difference between this school and other schools is the management failure to support staff."
Simon also pointed to pressures facing many young people as the cuts start to bite, which can lead to more challenging behaviour. Firstly, the reductions in many central support agencies such as educational psychologists and behaviour support teams who can assist with more disturbed or disruptive pupils.
The local authority excluded their own widely respected and effective behaviour support team from involvement in the school, preferring to side with the head.
Apparently it wouldn't do to be recognising the value of the team when it is being run down.
Secondly, a wave of redundancies, or the threat of them, is causing stress in many families. In former mill, engineering and paper-making towns like Blackburn and Darwen, 40% of jobs are now in the public sector and 1,900 have already been lost locally.
Finally, the actions the government has taken since coming to power have all undermined the aspirations of working class pupils.
When Blackburn's sixth formers demonstrated against university fee increases before Christmas, their class awareness was expressed in the slogan: 'Education for the masses, not just for the higher classes'.
Meanwhile, though no dates have been set, further strikes are not ruled out.
In The Socialist 27 April 2011:
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
May Day Greetings
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party campaigns