A troubled Kent school has closed today as teachers strike over “unacceptable” pupil behaviour including threats of sexual violence against female staff, gang fights and youngsters throwing chairs and tables.
National Education Union teachers at Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey want leaders to commit to a “zero tolerance” approach to behaviour, with “fixed exclusion tariffs” of 10 days for any pupil who assaults, or threatens to assault, staff.
Pupils are now learning at home after the school, based on two sites, had to close.
Oasis Community Learning announced earlier this year it would give up control of the school after a damning ‘inadequate’ Ofsted report found more than half of pupils did not attend regularly.
After a visit last June, inspectors said: “Too many pupils feel unsafe at this school. Some pupils told us that they ‘have had enough’ of being jostled and hurt in corridors or verbally abused.”
The school will now be split into two new schools and move to the Leigh Academies Trust and EKC Schools Trust, but not until September next year.
An Ofsted report following a monitoring visit in July said: “While expectations are not yet implemented fully across the school, staff are dealing with unacceptable behaviour and using sanctions appropriately more often.”
It added staff “feel that the school is heading in the right direction”.
Four assaults in two weeks
But the union told Schools Week there had been four physical assaults in the last two weeks alone. Recent incidents include:
- Threats of sexual violence against female staff, threats of being ‘cut’ ‘sliced’, ‘killed’
- Pushing and hitting staff, gang fights, large groups of children attacking one student
- Pupils throwing tables and chairs at staff and down corridors
- Racial bullying of staff
- Destruction of school property including kicking down doors, smashing windows
Nick Childs, the NEU’s senior regional officer, said the action was “regrettable” but “unavoidable”.
“The Oasis Trust have been aware of staff safety concerns for many months and the Union has been clear about the decisive action required to address the unacceptable working and learning environment.
“Whilst some progress has been made in negotiations in recent days this is too little, too late for our members.”
He added that behaviour at the school was “completely unacceptable”.
“Lessons are regularly disturbed and staff safety and wellbeing put at risk. A zero-tolerance approach must be introduced including a fixed exclusion tariff for assaults and threats of violence against staff and pupils”.
‘A scenario no-one wants’
The strike was called after negotiations over staff and pupil safety broke down.
The union said other areas of dispute, including workload and a promised bonus payment, had been “largely addressed”.
Five more strike days are planned.
The Ofsted monitoring visit pointed out that 26 staff members were due to leave at the end of the summer term, although most of those positions had been recruited for.
A spokesperson for Oasis said providing a “high-quality education for every student is always our top priority, and during this industrial action we will be offering online study materials to all students to minimise the disruption.
“Whilst this is a scenario that nobody wants, we have had positive discussions with the union, and we are confident that we have made significant progress.
“We remain committed to working positively with staff representatives to try and avoid any future disruption, and to ensure that Oasis Academy Isle of Sheppey is a school where everybody can thrive.”
The government’s first ever national behaviour survey, published in June, found on average six minutes for every half hour in class were eaten up by poor behaviour – equating to 50 minutes a day.
But Teacher Tapp data last month showed just over a third of teachers said their most recent lesson was disrupted due to poor behaviour, down from a high of 41 per cent in pre-pandemic December 2019.
However, most teachers (71 per cent) report that pupil behaviour has deteriorated since they started teaching, up 36 percentage points since 2018.
This could be caused by a rise in bad behaviour outside of lessons, though, with more teachers saying there isn’t enough supervision at these times.
The NEU had passed a motion at its 2021 teacher conference calling for a “fully inclusive, properly funded education service where exclusion is reduced, ultimately ended”, and a “moratorium on exclusions in the wake of the pandemic”.
However the union’s then leaders said exclusions “must still be available” to keep victims of sexual abuse, violence and bullying safe.