Teachers, teaching assistants and office staff in the National Education Union (NEU) are currently on their third week of strike action at Walthamstow Primary Academy. The reasons the strike was started back in March include bullying, unequal pay and treatment of staff, and lack of training and support for the education workers. The reasons the strike continues, with nine further days planned, is the intransigence of the head teacher and lack of serious engagement in negotiations.
The picket line is ‘manned’ by brilliant women workers, mostly striking for the first time. Students and parents greet them by name – showing the affection there is for them among the school families. But not so the academy’s senior management. Appeals for training and ideas for improvements get turned down. Feedback comes in the form of a telling-off. Think of the nurturing environment a primary school should be – this academy chain is creating the opposite.
The school is part of United Learning, an academy chain with a number of schools locally and hundreds across the country. The academy model, introduced by the Blair New Labour government and developed under subsequent Tory governments, outrageously allows the schools to bypass nationally negotiated pay deals with the school workers’ unions. But the determined collective action by the school workers points to the limits of such arrangements.
While parents, local trade unionists, and socialists have supported the strikers, when they have sought support from the local council they have not even received a reply. Under the Labour-run council in Waltham Forest, 33 of the borough’s 77 schools have been turned into academies. But in 2022 a whole number of them have faced strike action already on similar issues – an indictment of the academy model. Imagine if the council was fighting with the education workers to overturn the privatisation model. That’s one of the reasons TUSC candidates are standing in the local elections on 5 May – so workers like these have a voice on the council.
A mass campaign against all the bullying, low-paying academies is needed, with education workers driving it. It is teachers, school workers, parents, students and the local trade unions and council who should be running our schools, not brutal ‘business’ people who prioritise their interests over the students.