Threat of school strikes forces climbdown

Submitted by Matthew on 17 October, 2012 - 8:54

As reported in Solidarity 260 (10 October 2012), teachers at Bishop Challoner school in East London voted to strike in opposition to a threat from the headteacher to impose a “mock” Ofsted inspection.

Bishop Challoner teachers had previously voted not to cooperate with or participate in any such inspection or observation, as part of the ongoing industrial action by the NUT and NASUWT teaching unions.

Following the strike vote, a series of one-sided “negotiations” followed, consisting of the head sending out a series of increasingly embarrassed emails in which what had initially been presented as a compulsory inspection was first reduced to a partial observation, then a voluntary opt-in process for individual departments, then a voluntary opt-in process for individuals (i.e. teachers could opt out even if their departments opted in), then something that would only affect senior management.

A meeting on Tuesday 9 October agreed that, while positive, the climb-down was not to be trusted. Workers were also angered by the head’s attempt to divide staff on the basis of department or grade. The 9 October meeting again voted overwhelmingly to strike if any observations of any description went ahead.

Throughout the entire process there was no communication from the headteacher to union reps in the school. She consistently attempted to either ignore or bypass the democratically-elected representatives of her own employees.

Eventually, she agreed to negotiate with the union at a regional level but it was not clear whether school reps would be allowed to participate in the meetings. However, regional NUT reps insisted that a school rep attend. Having previously cancelled a meeting with school reps, the head then dismissed official communication from the school NUT group to her as “anonymous emails”.

A new proposal has emerged from negotiations, which is for a “paired inspection” rather than a mock Ofsted.

This would only be possible if the school adopts an observation protocol in line with NUT policy. Given the underhand behaviour of management throughout this dispute, and the head’s consistent refusal to communicate openly with union reps in the school, school reps are insisting that members vote on participation in any observation or inspection process before it takes place.

The experience at Bishop Challoner school shows that teachers have enormous strength and power. Simply taking a stand in a meeting sent our head into a tailspin and forced a series of embarrassing climb-downs. Other teachers across the country can do the same as part of the NUT/NASUWT action; you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve.

Ultimately, we have the power because we make the schools run. We, and not the senior managers, are responsible for delivering our pupils’ education.