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Posted on 11 June 2013 at 16:56 GMT

NUT members strike to defend teaching assistant posts at a Leicester school

Heather Rawling, Leicester retired NUT member

'Things are getting serious' a NUT member told me on the picket line at Uplands Junior School in Leicester.

In a second marvelous show of solidarity, teachers at this inner city school have taken another day's strike action to defend children's education and the jobs of eight teaching assistants.

A united picket line demonstrated the determination of teachers to win their dispute with the head teacher and governors.

Teaching assistants stood in solidarity with NUT members on the picket line. Unison members would like to be withdrawing their labour but are having difficulty persuading their regional office to ballot for strike action.

GMB union members are also hoping to be able to support further strike days. ATL have balloted and will be supporting further action.

The dispute is primarily against the head and governors' restructuring plan which proposes cutting eight teaching assistant posts. Previously the staff have passed a motion of no confidence in the head teacher.

The city council has appointed an independent person to investigate the NUT grievances. Amongst other demands, the NUT has asserted that it will cooperate with the investigation if the head is suspended and the restructuring process is halted.

If these demands are not met there will be a third one-day strike on Thursday and further strike action.

Unlike the first one-day strike, the head has not closed the school. It is thought that over 100 children were being taught by one supply teacher and some teaching assistants. It was reported that by 9.30am the attendance registers had not been taken.

A minority of parents are worried about the impact the action is having on their child's education. But teachers argue that not taking action will have a worse impact. "If we don't take two or three days' strike action, then the school may not be able to open in September" NUT members told me.

All the basic planning has not taken place so no one knows who is teaching what class, who is supporting, who the line managers are going to be.

It is vital that staff at the school continue to get the support of the parents and community. The head and governors are actively trying to turn them against the dispute.

A meeting with parents called by the unions could help forge even stronger links and isolate the head and his governors.

Joint strike action by all union members would also demonstrate to the investigation and negotiating team the strength of staff feeling at the school.

Update written by Heather on 13.6.13

Events have moved rapidly since teachers at Uplands Junior School in Leicester staged their second one-day strike.

The head, Dr Luckcock and governors had been so determined to keep the school open that staff were seriously concerned for the quality of education and health and safety of the pupils.

A letter had gone out to parents asking them to come into school on Tuesday to support the children. Wives of governors were taking groups of children and staff don't know if proper Safeguarding Children procedures such as CRB checks were made.

Teaching assistants were so stressed by the experience and months of grievances with the head that many are now off sick.

ATL members have balloted in support of strike action. Even admin staff did not want to work. Consequently, the school was completely shut on the third day of action.

Staff are completely united in their defence of teaching assistant jobs at the school and their demands to suspend the head teacher and the review of staffing structure.

An independent investigation has been agreed which will take a minimum of three weeks to read evidence of a whole raft of grievances, interview people and reach conclusions. The end of the academic year is only one week later.

Until the investigation process is completed, no-one knows what class they will be taking and what support from teaching assistants will be there.

All staff are concerned for the quality of education that will be delivered and are taking action to defend the standards of teaching and learning delivered in the school.

The union Unison has finally agreed to requests from its members and their local full time organiser to ballot for strike action.

At a meeting of staff from all unions, some staff expressed a lack of trust in the local authority. It is important that whilst cooperating with the independent investigation, the option of continuing strike action is maintained to demonstrate the continued dissatisfaction of the staff and their determination to win their dispute.

Update on 18.6.13

The restructuring has now been put on hold so the NUT has suspended strike action for as long as it feels the investigation is being conducted fairly.

This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 11 June 2013 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.

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