Academies

Strike over Lewisham academies plan called off

Country's largest federation will put councillor on its board and pledge not to use unqualified teachers

Country's largest federation will put councillor on its board and pledge not to use unqualified teachers

15 Jun 2023, 12:07

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A strike over academisation plans at the country’s largest federation has been called off after the schools made new concessions, including vowing to allow a councillor to sit on its new board.

Staff from the Leathersellers’ Federation of Schools, which educates 3,000 pupils in Lewisham, have taken 12 days of strike action so far this year. Nine more days were also planned.

Former schools minister Lord Knight, whose daughter attends one of the schools, said: “The impact on children of these strikes is catastrophic.”

Lord Jim Knight
Lord Jim Knight

But the strike was called off on Friday after an agreement was reached between the federation, the National Education Union and GMB union.

The federation’s three all-through schools will now become a multi-academy trust in January.

They previously consulted on the plans, saying it would save money, mean they can collaborate more with local schools and provide better professional development opportunities for staff.

A total of 381 responses were received, of which the federation said 244 were opposed and just 22 supportive. Another 115 were neutral. Parents made up 201 of the responses, staff 68, community partners 58 and students 44.

‘Last half term was incredibly difficult’

The federation, which said its heads backed the move, had already committed to protecting current terms and conditions for both existing and future staff.

They have now agreed to other concessions.

That includes a joint consultative committee with unions to provide a “regular and formal forum” to discuss issues of “strategic importance” to the schools.

Councillor Chris Barnham, Lewisham’s cabinet member for children and young people, will also be appointed to the new trust board to “strengthen the federation’s place within the Lewisham family of schools”.

They had already committed to only employing unqualified teachers in the same circumstances as permitted for council schools.

Andy Rothery, the federation chair, said: “We know that last half term was incredibly difficult for students and families and we will support students to catch up on missed learning.

“We are looking forward to working with parents, carers, students, staff and our wider community over the next few months to help shape our future local multi-academy trust.

“We are very proud of the strong individual identities of our schools. We will remain the same schools, with the same leaders and the same culture.”

An NEU spokesperson said they voted to accept the outcome of talks which gave “guarantees on working conditions for both new and existing staff – a significant issue for our members”.

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3 Comments

  1. Robert James

    This barely scratches the surface of this story that has affected 1,000s. Morale of staff at these schools is very low at the moment and trust in the governing body at an all time low. The only reason the strikes were called off is down to minsterial intervention and the unions having no choice.

    I’m sure the impact of these strikes on the children of these schools has been negative. However, things need to be put into perspective here: the strikes did not come out of nowhere – they were the direct consequence of the governing body to consider its stakeholders wishes and concerns.

    I would invite you to look at the Prendergast Academisation Discussion Group on FB (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1356356874908518) to gain a more in-depth insight into this campaign.

  2. Christina Boylan- Jones

    I completely agree with Robert. Your coverage of this issue is hugely disappointing. Where is the balance? Parents & staff have been left reeling by what has happened. To put forward these plans when it was evident from the response when it was proposed 8 years ago was irresponsible.

  3. Margaret R

    I am a parent of a child in one of the Prendergast schools. I think this articles gives an unbalanced picture of the process which led to ‘the agreement’ between staff unions and the Governing Board.
    While the article mentions the disruption caused by the strikes, it is worth noting that
    I, along with many other parents, was not only supportive of the NEU and GMB strikes but grateful to the staff for doing what they could to halt the academisation process. As well as seeing more drawbacks than benefits to becoming a MAT, the way the Governing Board handled the process and responded to opposition has convinced me that there is no hope that this MAT will be what they are promising.

    The Governing Board had spent two years planning the MAT essentially in secret. The first parents heard about it was from our children who were shown a glossy presentation about becoming a MAT. This was followed by a very short consultation period. The consultation itself was not open or inclusive, with responses having to be submitted online only and consultation meetings limited in number and scope.

    Despite overwhelming opposition from parents and carers, staff and community members, the GB voted to pursue academisation showing that the consultation process was just consultation theatre. In this context, the unions’ decision to strike, and to strike hard, was seen as the last best option to protect our schools from an unwanted and unnecessary MAT conversion under the leadership of a GB who had proven themselves unwilling to respond constructively to community concerns.

    Once the strikes were announced, the GB sent a series of hostile communications about their unionised staff to parents via parentmail, accusing them of being ‘ideologically driven’ and having a history of ‘activism’ and also insinuating that striking staff did not care about the well being of students. At they same time as these communications were sent, staff were forbidden from discussing their views on academisation with our children. Of course the strikes were disruptive, but it was the high handed actions of the GB that I blame for leaving staff with no other choice.

    Your article gives the impression that the strikes have been called off due to some kind of mutually beneficial agreement. My understanding is that this was not the case at all and that the staff unions were in fact faced with the prospect of the MAT conversion being brought forward to September 01 this year with the intervention of the DfE, leaving them no realistic option to stop the MAT through strike action.

    I am deeply concerned about the future of the schools under a leadership which has treated the concerns of staff and parents and carers in such a hostile way. I am horrified that they seem to have pushed through their plans with the backing of the current government. I am very worried that because of the way they have been treated, staff will be feeling understandably unhappy and may seek to leave. This would be such a shame as the staff are fantastic and the retention rates at these schools have been well above the average.

    Lewisham stands out against the national
    picture for having a low proportion of academies. This rush to academise the Prendergast schools seems to be in line with the Governments previous policy aim of 100% academisation.

    This story is hugely significant nationally as well as locally and it is a shame that the larger issues have been overlooked and it has been presented as the mutually agreed settlement to a disruptive dispute.