Teachers at the City of London Academy Southwark have won significant improvements after three days of strikes by the National Education Union, 1 March and 7-8 March.
A union group meeting on Monday 12 March voted to suspend further strikes, scheduled for 13-15 March while management carries through its promises to redraft appraisal and support-plan policies in consultation with the union.
The strikes drew over 40 teachers to the picket lines on each day, despite snow and winds on the first day.
Management kept the school open for Years 10-11, and for Years 12-13 to do mock exams, but support staff inside the school report that very little teaching was done on those days.
The final sticking point was the fate of four teachers on “support plans” which, the union said, were imposed unfairly and were punitive rather than supportive.
After insisting that the “support plans” must stay, and that appraisal policy had been decided at academy-chain (MAT) level and was immovable, management agreed to rewrite policy and said that the “support plans” consequently “no longer existed”.
Even before the strikes, management had conceded that the “failed” verdicts passed on 17 teachers in the last performance management cycle were flawed, and had reversed almost all of them.
The dispute saw teachers not previously at all active in the union becoming vocal. One teacher produced a leaflet citing research that an “inadequate” verdict from a lesson observation is 90% likely not to be corroborated by an independent observer.
Placards on the picket lines said “Kids don’t belong on spreadsheets” and “Not everything that can be counted, counts. Not everything that counts, can be counted”. This was also a broader rebellion against the box-ticking, punitive approach increasingly imposed on the school since the construction of a full-scale management structure for the MAT.
Negotiations in the dispute were increasingly run from the management side by the MAT CEO, bypassing the Head of School.
Other schools in the MAT, except maybe Highbury Grove, remain less strongly-unionised than Southwark. Talks are underway for a MAT-wide recognition agreement. The creation of a MAT-wide lay union committee is urgent.
So is the consolidation of union organisation at Southwark, where, despite the dispute victory, many teachers had already decided to leave the school, and next year will see a big turnover of staff.
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