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Teachers at Forest Gate and East Ham schools strike over academisation plans

PUBLISHED: 17:00 13 February 2020

Teachers at St Bon's form a picket line outside the school's Boleyn Road entrance on Thursday (February 13). Picture: Jon King

Teachers at St Bon's form a picket line outside the school's Boleyn Road entrance on Thursday (February 13). Picture: Jon King

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Teachers have gone on strike over a dispute to turn their schools into academies.

Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams SM with schoool children from St Bonaventure's and St Antony's at an event in 2017. Picture: St Bonaventure'sBishop of Brentwood Alan Williams SM with schoool children from St Bonaventure's and St Antony's at an event in 2017. Picture: St Bonaventure's

Staff at St Bonaventure's in Boleyn Road, Forest Gate, and St Michael's Catholic Primary in Howard Road, East Ham, are taking the stand in response to a move to academise by the Diocese of Brentwood.

St Bon's teacher, James Fleming, said: "We are a group of teachers who really love their school and want to do the best for the children, staff and community.

"St Bon's is a fantastic school and we want it to stay that way."

James added that staff are concerned the school's curriculum will narrow as a result of academisation in pursuit of higher results.

"Academies have annihilated the teaching profession. They extend the school day, start opening on Saturdays, they become exam factories. We want to give students a broad spectrum [of subjects]," James said.

The Diocese wants to cut its schools' financial ties to local authorities and create Catholic multi-academies trusts (CMATs) in a bid to protect religious education.

Academies have more freedom than other state schools over their finances, the curriculum, term and school day lengths and teachers' pay and conditions.

But striking staff fear joining a MAT would undermine their terms and conditions and be no guarantee of more money for schools.

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About 45 St Bon's staff backed by the National Education Union (NEU) stood outside the school's entrances on the third day of action on Thursday, February 13. St Michael's staff are on the ninth day of their picket.

St Bon's strikers want the academisation plans to be paused for two and a half years.

Louise Cuffaro, joint secretary of Newham's NEU branch, said: "We know from existing academies in Newham that conditions for teachers worsen.

"The system is not broken. These schools are good schools. There is nothing [the Diocese] can't do already, except change the terms and conditions."

She warned that the Bishop of Brentwood, The Rt Rev Alan Williams, would decide whether schools academise. The Diocese maintains the decision lies with school governing bodies.

The Diocese has promised to protect pay and conditions to schools converting to academies, outlining on February 5 principles it "strongly recommends". These include sticking to national agreements for staff and ensuring new recruits are employed on "the same or very similar" terms and conditions.

Union recognition would be maintained and changes to conditions of service wouldn't be carried out without speaking to staff and union reps.

The Diocese's director of education, Robert Simpson, said: "We support moves towards academisation in order to strengthen the future of Catholic education in the Diocese and to unlock the benefits to students, teachers and schools that academisation brings.

"A well-organised and coherent structure of Catholic schools presents new and exciting opportunities for staff to develop their careers within our schools, through training and other development opportunities.

"We have already seen examples of this development in schools which have recently converted to academies, and we look forward to seeing more staff and pupils benefitting from this approach.

"We support the focus on building and sustaining good working relationships between schools and their staff and welcome collaboration with the unions to achieve this."


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