After striking for nine days over three weeks, teachers at Stratford Academy, east London, suspended their strike action pending the outcome of negotiations with senior management. It is believed that management made concessions, including agreeing to pay back the 15% docked wages of 12 teachers, which triggered the industrial action by members of the teaching unions NUT and NASUWT.
The head teacher and school governors were rocked by the combined pressure of striking teachers and parents who are in open revolt against the aggressive actions of the school’s senior management.
The Socialist spoke to Niall Mulholland, who helped initiate Stratford Academy Concerned Parents.
The head, Andrew Seager, tried to use ‘divide and rule’ tactics between teachers and parents to defeat the strike. But this was thwarted once parents knew the real reasons for the dispute – an oppressive management that cut teachers’ pay for following national union action short-of-a-strike. Teachers are refusing to undertake tasks that distract them from the core role of teaching and which do not require their skills as qualified teachers.
On the first day of strike action, 25 October, I went to the teachers’ picket line to offer solidarity and support from the local Socialist Party branch and also as a parent of a Year 8 pupil at Stratford. I soon heard examples of years of heavy-handed, oppressive senior management, backed by supine governors. This only got worse when Stratford was turned into an academy, with minimum ‘consultation’, in 2011.
Parents tried to meet with the governors. We were ignored. So we called our own parents’ meeting and invited teachers’ unions and governors to speak. We advertised the meeting by leafleting neighbouring streets around Stratford Academy, holding street stalls, asking local shops to display posters on their windows, which most did eagerly, and going to the local press.
We held a packed meeting on 16 November. The NUT and NASUWT sent representatives but the governors did not show up. Parents were able to get past the misinformation put out by Seager and find out the truth about the strike. While half a million teachers in 23,000 schools are taking action short-of-a-strike, only senior management at Stratford have decided to take punitive action against teachers, provoking a strike.
Demanding our say
We set up ‘Stratford Academy Concerned Parents’ and the meeting unanimously agreed a motion demanding senior management stop cutting teachers’ pay, let the teachers carry out union activities and end the oppressive management culture.
This rattled Seager who called his own ‘meeting for parents’ on 21 November. We and the teachers’ unions leafleted the 150-200 parents who turned up. After 20 minutes listening to the head justify provoking a strike by his insistence on enforcing “non-negotiables” on teachers, the mood of parents was extremely restless.
I and other parents, like Lois Austin and Caroline McGrath, stood up and demanded that we have our say. We put the blame for the strike firmly on senior management and the governors. This ignited the room. Many parents angrily called for the few governors present to justify their actions. Seager lost control of the meeting. Lois Austin moved a vote, calling for the governors to call an emergency meeting and to rescind the teachers’ pay cuts, which got an overwhelming majority in support.
Not over yet
This gave confidence to the striking teachers. Up to then, only a handful of teachers were on picket duty, largely due to fear of management reprisals. But the day after Seager’s meeting blew up in his face, 40 teachers joined the picket line. The fear of management tyranny fell away.
Another Stratford Academy Concerned Parents meeting was held on Thursday 22 November, with an even bigger turnout of parents and many young teachers. The next day, Seager suddenly invited us to meet with him and other senior staff. We brought to the meeting another motion, passed unanimously, which found ‘no confidence’ in the head.
Seager and senior staff were on the back foot. We got them to agree that all pupils who did not attend the few ‘classes’ that took place on strike days would not be marked as having taken ‘unauthorised absences’.
The balance of forces is on the side of teachers and parents. But the strike is suspended, not yet over. Outstanding issues remain unresolved. Beyond a restoration of pay cuts, teachers demand that all future threats of cutting their pay for taking part in the national NUT/NASUWT action must be withdrawn, and management bullying must end.
The parents have also found their voices. They demand real representation and accountability and will fight to have genuine parent-governors on the board of governors.
Stratford Academy Concerned Parents will continue to campaign, along with teachers, for all these aims.
At Connaught School for Girls in Waltham Forest, which is threatened with becoming an academy, students have been campaigning against the plans. A petition has been passed around and now has hundreds of signatures. Despite intimidation from the head teacher, some students are discussing what more they can do to support their teachers.
29.11.12: PRESS RELEASE from STRATFORD ACADEMY CONCERNED PARENTS
TEACHERS SUSPEND FURTHER STRIKE ACTION
After nine days of strikes, teachers at Stratford Academy, Newham, have suspended further strike action.
Following talks facilitated by ACAS, on Tuesday 27 November, the NUT and NASUWT teachers’ unions and Stratford Academy management agreed a joint press release: “Following constructive talks facilitated by ACAS, all sides have agreed to a process of further discussions to deal with outstanding issues”.
The teachers will be reintroducing their unions’ joint national action (short of strike action) measures in opposition to excessive workloads.
It was the Academy management’s outrageous demand that staff must individually promise not to take part in their unions’ joint action that provoked the strike in the first place.
Staff who refused to repudiate their unions’ campaign had their wages cut by 15%, with further threats of monthly pay cuts.
Nearly half a million teachers, in 23,000 schools, are taking part in the unions’ actions but only Stratford Academy management decided to take punitive action against teachers.
Faced with this, teachers took strike action on 25 October, followed by eight more days of strikes, over the next three weeks.
We hope that the final outcome of negotiations will confirm an important victory for the teachers. This would also be a tremendous result for parents and pupils! Our children can then return to school full time and our teachers can return to teaching unbowed and confident they have the full support of parents.
The ‘Stratford Academy Concerned Parents’ group was formed after parents’ views were completed ignored by the Head and Governors.
We organised mass leafleting to bring the real facts about the strike to parents and the local community.
We held our own packed meetings of parents where it was unanimously decided to condemn the actions of the Head and Governors and to call on senior management to negotiate with teachers, to allow our children to return full time to school.
Under our continuous pressure, eventually the Head Teacher was compelled to call a “meeting of parents” on 20 November.
Two hundred parents attended and loudly condemned the confrontational and reckless actions of school management that led to the teachers’ strike.
Last Friday, 23 November, a delegation of Concerned Parents met with senior management and presented a motion of ‘no confidence’ to the Head.
Within days, the combined pressure from teachers and parents forced the Head and Governors (the Employers) to negotiate with teachers’ unions.
Areas of concern for parents remain
While teachers continue to negotiate over their issues, areas of concern for parents remain, in particular the heavy-handed management culture.
But parents have found their voices! Stratford Academy Concerned Parents will continue to campaign for real representation and accountability.
We will work to be represented by parent-governors that actually reflect our views on the Board.
We are confident that our example of firm parents and teachers’ unity in the face of bullying senior management will give encouragement to staff and parents in other schools facing similar problems with management.
The experience at Stratford Academy also serves as a warning to staff and parents at other schools where attempts are being made by senior management to turn them into academies, about the sort of regime that might await them.
Many parents at Stratford now question the rapid process and minimum so-called “consultation” that led to Stratford becoming an Academy in 2011.
We will endeavour to ensure the magnificent struggle at Stratford Academy is widely known at schools across the country!
Niall Mulholland, Stratford Academy Concerned Parents
For more details and interviews etc, please contact Niall Mulholland, Stratford Academy Concerned Parents at:
Or phone Niall Mulholland at the following numbers:
0797 231 9024, 020 89888 790, 020 8471 3550