Greg Randall, Lambeth and South West London Socialist Party
National Education Union members at John Fisher School in Purley, south London, took strike action on 28 April over anti-LGBTQ+ policies of the school’s sponsor, the Catholic Diocese of Southwark.
Young adult author Simon James Green was invited to speak at the school, but the Diocese ordered that the visit be cancelled because of the gay characters and themes in his work. The school governors refused this, so the church authorities sacked all their appointed governors, replacing them with more compliant new ones.
The actions of the Diocese demonstrate more concern about doctrine than educational needs. The ban can only damage gay students at the school.
The school NEU branch has no confidence in the new board of governors, and is calling for the sacked governors to be reinstated and the author’s visit to go ahead. At the picket last week, strikers received support from their students.
The introduction of the Tories’ ‘Section 28’, under Margaret Thatcher, effectively banned discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools. This reactionary measure was repealed by New Labour, but Labour and Tory policies of taking schools out of local authority control allow school sponsors to effectively reinstate it without any democratic control.
Currently, John Fisher School is ‘voluntary aided’, so the church does not appoint all governors. The NEU fears that it will be turned into an academy, giving the church total control.
This dispute shows how collective workplace action can be taken against prejudice and reaction.
The Socialist Party calls for schools to be under the democratic control of local education authorities, school staff and parents. At the time of going to press four more strike days are planned, with action on 4 and 5 May, then 10 and 11 May.
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