School staff to strike next week over academy move

Posted On 21 May 2021 at 12:02 pm

Staff at a Peacehaven school are to go on strike next week over moves to turn the school into an academy.

The National Education Union (NEU) said that it had announced further strike action at Peacehaven Heights Primary for Tuesday (25 May).

The union said: “Staff members and parents have been angered by the decision of the interim executive board (IEB) at Peacehaven Heights Primary to apply for an academy order several months in advance of consultation over whether to convert the school to an academy has even begun.

“They believe this undermines the meaningfulness of any future consultation, as the law does not require an academy order to be approved in advance of consultation.”

Parent campaigner Caroline Gridley said: “The fact that they have applied for an academy order before any consultation is a joke.

“IEB chair Penny Gaunt has already told parents that it is a consultation and not a referendum which suggests she’s not listening to parents, staff or the local community.”

As a result, the NEU said, members would take a second day of strike action this month over the academisation threat, having walked out on Wednesday 5 May.

Campaigners are calling on East Sussex County Council to reinstate a local governing body to replace the IEB that was imposed to run the school in 2019.

The previous governors were removed after they decided against converting the school into an academy.

The NEU said: “The combined efforts of staff and parent campaigners through strike action, children protesting for a permanent head teacher, a public meeting and hundreds of letters being sent, led to consultation over academy conversion being pushed back until the autumn term.”

But NEU branch secretary Phil Clarke said that this was not enough of an assurance to call off strike action, considering the recent announcement to apply for an academy order.

Mr Clarke said: “We served notice to the employer of this day of action four weeks ago but, up until the recent announcement, our members had been considering suspending further action to minimise disruption for children and parents.

“They were prepared to give the new councillors in Peacehaven and Telscombe, who have supported the campaign throughout, an opportunity to influence the position of the council with regards to reinstating governing bodies.

“However, the announcement by the IEB last week to push on with applying for an academy order when the level of community opposition is already clear, and consultation has not even begun, has destroyed any hope of a meaningful consultation taking place in the future.

“With a heavy heart, our members are now prepared to take further strike action.

“East Sussex County Council can prevent this by simply reinstating a local governing body to decide the future of the school like any other local authority school and allowing that governing body to advertise for a permanent head teacher without delay.

“We have still not been given a straight answer as to why they can’t or won’t do this.”

The union said that when staff last took strike action, on Wednesday 5 May, large numbers of parents and children joined them on the picket line to show their support and marched through the centre of town to the Big Park for speeches.

Caroline Gridley, who will be supporting staff again, said: “I don’t want my children missing any more education, especially after such a long time out of school over lockdown.

“However, it has already been shown in 2019 that academisation is not in the best interests of the children at Peacehaven Heights – and all the IEB have done is fail to recruit a permanent head teacher and concrete in the swimming pool.

“I hate the idea of my children losing yet another day of school but the staff have my full support on this matter.”

Picket lines are planned for the infant and junior sites from 7.30am on Tuesday, with campaigners due to head to County Hall in Lewes for a protest there at 9am.

The union said: “The first ‘in-person’ full council meeting will be taking place there since restrictions were eased and campaigners expect leading councillors to address them personally outside County Hall.

Councillor Chris Collier, a newly elected county councillor for Peacehaven, said: “I’m disappointed that staff have been driven to a second day of strike action.

“Applying for an academy order before consulting not only shows a contempt for the process but a total disregard for its potential outcome.

“It has never appeared clearer that it is currently council policy to force all our schools into academisation.

“Yet again, I’m calling for East Sussex County Council to put a local governing body back in place.

“Any consultation can then be carried out by them in a transparent way that puts the best interests of the pupils first, rather than this headlong nose-dive into forced academisation.”

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