Yesterday, Lewisham Council opened a four-week consultation which threatens the future employment of around hundred staff - and also threatens the education of the youngsters they support, youngsters with special needs who will deal particularly badly with change and disruption to their education.
The staff work at Meadowgate and Pendragon Special Schools and in the Communication and Interaction Outreach (CIT) Team based at Kaleidoscope in Catford. They have been told that they will have to go through a competitive interview process to secure future work from September - but will lose their jobs if unsuccessful.
This threat stems from the decision of the Council's Special Needs Review back in 2007 to close Meadowgate and Pendragon Schools and open a new school for students with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) - to be called Drumbeat. However, staff always understood that that most of them would transfer employment to the new school. After all, they already have the skills, experience and knowledge of supporting these individual students.
Staff and unions have been asking for years for clarification as to how the transition from Meadowgate and Pendragon schools to Drumbeat would be handled. Now, to our shock and anger, we find at the last minute that the Council is refusing to guarantee continuing employment to staff but plans to put the jobs in the new school out to external advert at the same time as existing staff have to apply for posts. This is a clear threat to staff that they are not wanted in the new school.
Students will also be disturbed to find that the staff that they have built up a relationship with may no longer be supporting and teaching them in September. In particular, staff and unions are concerned about students at Pendragon School who are presently studying for qualifications as it is unclear how the Council plans to teach these courses from September. Some families may be advised to seek a place in a mainstream school - but it is far from clear where places suitable for these youngsters can be found.
We are particularly concerned to find that, although the new Drumbeat will be catering for similar numbers of students as in the two existing schools, staff numbers are to be cut. The new school is intended to support students with even greater needs yet the Council plans to cut the budget compared to the existing schools. Is this the high-quality education that parents were promised in the Special Needs Review ?
The staff in the CIT have even more reason to be angry. As recently as last year, Council papers were clearly talking about the team '"transferring" to Drumbeat - with no suggestion that they would have to reapply for their posts. Now they face a period of unnecessary insecurity - along with the schools and students that they support.
Lewisham NUT - along with other staff unions - is strongly opposing this threat to teachers and education. There is no justification for treating staff and students in this way. We will be meeting with Council Officers on Friday and demanding that they rethink their plans. If they do not, then we will be mounting a strong campaign to defend staff and students from these plans.