Teachers in South London have gone on strike again – but this time in protest against plans to convert their schools into academies as staff are concerned that schools that become academies end up with depleting standards.
Three schools, Prendergast, Prendergast Ladywell, and Prendergast Vale, are affected by the strike.
The three schools currently operate as a federation, with a single governing body overseeing their management and funding from Lewisham Council. However, the Leathersellers’ Federation governing body wants to change to a multi-academy trust (MAT), in line with the UK government’s policy for all schools in England to join a MAT or be in the process of joining one by 2030.
What are academies?
As opposed to independent schools, academies receive funding directly from the Government and are run by an academy trust. Some schools choose to become academies. If a school funded by the local authority is judged as ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted then it must become an academy.
According to the Government, academies have more control over how they do things – they do not have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times.
However, this is called into question by the strikes against academy status. Staff at the three affected schools are concerned that along with worsening working conditions, lower wages and limited freedom to navigate the curriculum. Support workers have also joined teachers on the picket lines.
The Leathersellers’ Federation says that changing to academies will result in cutting down council admin costs which can then be allocated towards supporting pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. The Federation has assured that there will be no redundancies, restructures, or cuts as a result of the proposals.
However, James Kerr, assistant secretary of the National Education Union’s (NEU) Lewisham Branch, said that the Federation has failed to address staff’s concerns, and the NEU opposes the academisation plans.
The NEU, the largest education union in the UK, argues that academy trusts are driving down working conditions for teachers and that there is insufficient evidence to suggest that they improve standards. The NEU has stated that it will call off the strike if the governors cancel or significantly delay the academy plans.
Andy Rothery, chair of governors at the Leathersellers’ Federation, has written an open letter to parents and staff, requesting that teachers return to work. He has assured them that the schools’ culture, values, leadership, staff terms and conditions, school name, and uniforms will remain unchanged regardless of the legal structure.
Moreover, councillor Chris Barnham, Lewisham Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, has expressed concern about the strike’s impact on children’s education and called on all parties to do their utmost to end the disruption. The council remains committed to supporting the best possible educational opportunities for Lewisham’s children and young people.
Although the Leathersellers’ Federation remains firm that no detrimental impacts will occur as a consequence of the three schools becoming academies, it is important that teachers are listened to and their knowledge, experiences and interests are taken into consideration when decisions concerning their field are made. The working conditions for staff and the quality of education for students should always be prioritised.