A short blog detailing to the nascent and so far trade union dominated fight against academy conversion in Brent, London.
Working in education myself and generally being pissed off since Michael Wilshaw's inflammatory comments, I spent an hour today alongside NUT activists leafleting students as they left Queen's Park Community school. The school, based in Brent in Northwest London, is one of four which the borough is hoping to turn into academies. The other three are Alperton Community School, Preston Manor and Wembley High Technology College. This is on top of local authority plans to close down the Kingsbury Pupil Referral Unit, a specialised facility for students who've been excluded from mainstream schools.
In all four of the schools, the main teaching unions (NUT, NASUWT, and ATL) have balloted members over the plans and a yes vote is widely expected. Unfortunately, support staff unions GMB and UNISON have not taken part in the balloting. This is a problem. Besides a tension that often exists between support staff and teachers, such arbitrary trade union divisions means that members of non-striking unions will be told by their unions to go to work on strike days.
As an education worker, I often find myself wondering why the NUT encourages senior managers to join but bars the TAs who work alongside teachers in the classroom. In any case, workers in these schools need to begin having conversations about the importance of picket lines and not crossing them. This is something we've had some success with at my school, but it's come from workers directly and in defiance of the official advice from both management and the union. And, to continue my tangential rant, the work of convincing workmates not to cross doesn't happen on the picket line. It's about the conversations and meetings that happen in the run up to the strike. The picket line is just the culmination of all that.
Anyway, back in Brent, there is also widespread parent opposition to the plans as the school hasn't even mustered up the effort to go through the required consultation process. In fact, the leaflet we handed out today was an invitation for parents to a mass meeting that will be taking place on the issue this coming Wednesday.
As far as the media goes, as best I can tell, the only coverage has been this article which, to be fair, was on the front page of the generally anti-cuts local newspaper. Perhaps more worryingly, there is nothing about it on the NUT site either.
Brent Council does not appear to be prepared to back down, with a council spokesman saying “If industrial action does take place in any of the schools, then it would be for each school to put in place appropriate contingency plans.”
The remark sounds worryingly reminiscent of the tactics employed by other London schools whereby instead of shutting down schools when staff strike over academy plans, scabs are shipped in to cover classes and ensure the school stays open for students. Teachers, at least in my experience, are not known for their rowdy picket lines. This is perhaps understandable when management closed schools on strike days as a matter of course. However, private and public employers alike are using the crisis to ratchet up the class war from their end. As strikes increase, so will the boss class' propensity to use strikebreakers. So it seems that if education workers are going to have any chance of beating back the government's plan to privatise education and destroy national terms and conditions we're going to have step it up a notch.