Teachers strike over academy plans

Galliard Primary School teachers on strike
Galliard Primary School teachers walked out on strike over several days in February and vowed to continue their protest in March

Council leader backs striking teachers opposed to multi-academy trust in Edmonton, reports James Cracknell

Support is growing for a group of striking teachers opposed to plans to convert their school into an academy.

Twenty-eight members of staff at Galliard Primary, including 14 teachers, walked out on strike in February to oppose the move, claiming they’ve not been properly consulted and that as an academy the school would “lack accountability”. Several more strike days are scheduled in March before the academy conversion is due to take place in April.

Andy Griffiths, a Year 4 teacher who has taught at the school for 13 years, told the Dispatch: “The school’s leaders are avoiding us, they’ve not come to speak to the staff. I have asked them to suspend the process because there has been a breach of trust. We are thinking about getting an injunction.

“Academies lack accountability and they have CEOs with large wages that could be spent on books and computers.”

In total five primary schools in Edmonton – Galliard, Brettenham, Fleecefield, Raynham and Wilbury – are planning to join together as a multi-academy trust called ‘Children First’.

In response teachers and parents have formed the ‘Edmonton Against Academies’ campaign, winning support from Enfield Council and hosting a rally attended by more than 100 people at Green Towers Community Centre.

Speakers at last month’s public meeting included Kiri Tunks, joint president of the National Education Union (NEU), and Nesil Caliskan, the council leader. Galliard teacher Anne-Marie Hickling, who has been co-ordinating the strikes, told the meeting: “It looks like an academy empire. We have been told as teachers that if we don’t want to work in an academy we can resign.

“I am not happy to be taking part in strike action but there are many stakeholders who want this school to stay as part of the local authority and it leaves us with no other choice – we have not done this lightly and I appreciate it is very difficult for parents to deal with this.”

Another Galliard teacher who addressed the rally broke down in tears as she said: “We’ve not been consulted – it’s pre-determined.”

Academies were introduced in 2000 under Labour and have been significantly expanded under the coalition and Conservative governments since 2010. They are funded directly by government and run by education trusts, rather than local councils, and do not have to follow the National Curriculum.

Rally of parents and teachers opposed to academisation plans in Edmonton
Enfield Council leader Nesil Caliskan addresses a rally of parents and teachers opposed to academisation plans in Edmonton

In a letter addressed to pupils’ families Galliard headteacher Christine Dodd explained that discussions to convert to an academy began nearly two years ago, when meetings with parents were held, and that the Department for Education had approved their application in December.

Christine said: “We believe that not only is this the right time to convert, it is necessary in order to safeguard the identity and ethos of the school. Due to the political agenda that all schools will become academies, we feel we need to take action now to be in control of the future of our school.

“In forming our own multi-academy trust with other local schools we can ensure the focus remains on improving standards and providing great opportunities for Edmonton children. This opportunity may not always be available to us and therefore we wish to take advantage of this now.”

Cllr Caliskan told last month’s campaign rally the council was opposed to the move. She said: “Nobody decides to strike on a whim. There is a chronic underfunding of education. That relationship between the local authority and local schools exists for a reason – we have a duty to support children and see an improvement in outcomes.

“One in three children are living in poverty in this area. Now more than ever, that relationship between schools and the local authority is really, really important.”

While most secondary schools are now run as academies, primaries remain predominantly under local authority control. So far in Enfield, 16 out of 73 primary schools have converted to academies.

Cllr Caliskan added: “Any change to any school should only ever be driven by the desire to improve outcomes for children, not because you are trying to find funding.”

Kiri Tunks, NEU president, said: “Academies are not the answer. They will not solve the problems and in fact they make it worse.”

The Dispatch approached Christine Dodd for further comment but she did not respond before we went to press.