Wednesday 28 November 2012

Stratford Academy: parents and teachers united

Stratford Academy: Parents and teachers united against bullying management

After striking for nine days over four separate weeks, teachers at Stratford Academy, east London, have been able to suspend their strike action pending the outcome of negotiations with senior management. 

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.

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.

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 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." 

Teachers have also been taking strike action at Connaught School for Girls in Waltham Forest, which is threatened with becoming an academy, and students have also 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.

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