Friday, 17 March 2017

NUT forced to call strike to defend jobs, workload, education at Forest Hill


For immediate distribution - 17 March 2017


Lewisham Council provokes strike action at Forest Hill School

At a time when parents, staff and elected councillors should be working together to oppose the unprecedented threat of £3bn cuts to school budgets nationally, it is with regret that the NUT are having to call on its members at Forest Hill School (FHS) to take strike action in a dispute with Lewisham Council in order to oppose compulsory redundancies and the imposition of additional workload to NUT members at FHS.

London NUT officials had met earlier this week with FHS management and put forward proposals that we hoped would be agreed by the Council in order to avert strike action. We had understood that, before finalising any decision to withdraw or proceed with action, we would receive a response to our proposals by Friday 17 March. Regrettably, instead of hearing any further response, we were informed by the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group on Thursday 16 March that the Headteacher, Mike Sullivan, had instead already informed parents in a letter that strike action was definitely taking place. Further, he had also cancelled a meeting with a delegation of parents that had asked to meet with him to discuss the proposed restructuring.

Faced with this apparent refusal to negotiate a settlement, the NUT has had no option but to confirm that we are calling on our members at Forest Hill School to take three days of strike action before the Easter holidays. We hope that this firm action can yet persuade the Council to reconsider its position and agree an acceptable solution to the dispute without it dragging on further towards the exam period.

Parents support teachers on the school gates and lobby Lewisham Council

We are pleased that members of the Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group will be protesting outside the school gates in Dacres Road, SE23 2XN, at 9am on the day of strike action and supporting striking teachers in leafleting the local community to explain the threats to education at Forest Hill School and the reasons for the strike.

From 5pm on Wednesday 22 March, Forest Hill Parents’ Action Group and the NUT will also be jointly lobbying the meeting of Lewisham Mayor and Cabinet, to be held at the Town Hall in Catford, to demand the Council intervenes to carry out their responsibilities as employers and to protect education at Forest Hill School.

£1.3 million in staffing cuts will damage education at Forest Hill School

The dispute centres around a demand placed on the school to make £1.3 million in staffing cuts as part of a ‘recovery plan’ agreed with the Council. This comprises of:

  • 19 non-classroom based support staff made redundant (full year saving £350k)
  • A loss of 4 classroom based support roles and the rationalisation of the hours of other posts (£180k)
  • A loss of 15 teaching posts along with the reduction of payments for additional responsibilities for many other teaching posts (£800k)
The NUT believes that the consequences of the staffing losses proposed in this plan would be damaging to education, staffing morale and retention at Forest Hill School.
The job losses have already included a worrying loss of lunchtime supervisors and now threaten teaching posts including the compulsory redundancy of the Teacher supporting pupils with English as an Additional Language. Losing this many posts when pupil numbers are not falling at FHS can only mean cuts to education overall.

At a time when teacher workload is widely recognised as a key contributor to a mounting teacher recruitment and retention crisis, the cuts also impose the halving of the non-contact time that allows teachers to plan, prepare and mark during the working day from the equivalent of 6 out of 25 periods a week to just 3 out of 25.

These damaging cuts are a result of four significant funding pressures:

1) As with a growing number of schools nationally, rising costs and falling income, for example to post-16 funding, have pushed Forest Hill into a budget deficit

2) FHS has been loaned funds by the Council to address this as a ‘licensed deficit’. However, in addition to making cuts to reduce the deficit, this means that the school must also make additional cuts in order to be able to repay the loan.

3) FHS is spending nearly £1 million a year, 10.2% of its budget, on a PFI contract.

4) Lewisham Council is also insisting that the cost of redundancy payments is also taken from the FHS budget despite Section 37 of the 2002 Education Act making clear the expectation is that these costs should be paid by the Council, not FHS.

Lewisham Council can - and should - resolve this dispute

As one immediate step, the Authority should meet the costs of redundancy payments at the school, estimated to be in the region of £450,000 in total. This step alone would allow the school to avoid the deletion of the Teacher providing support for EAL and allow further staffing to be employed to provide additional non-contact time.

Beyond this, there are other steps that the DfE’s statutory guidance confirms that Lewisham Council could take - steps that the NUT understands are being taken by some other Authorities to support schools in financial difficulties. These include:

  • Renegotiating the terms of the loan agreement to reduce the repayments
  • Renegotiating contracts or assisting the school in meeting PFI costs
  • Providing additional finance to meet specific budget areas, e.g. the additional SLT support, special needs or to directly write off some of the debt.
The NUT was hoping that Lewisham Council would take at least some of these steps in order to assist Forest Hill School address its present difficulties. We had hoped the Council would recognise its responsibility to avoid severe damage to staff jobs, pay and conditions and subsequent severe damage to pupils’ education at FHS. We now have no option but to call action to persuade Lewisham Council to think again.

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