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The sacking of four Trade Unionists at Halesowen College in highly controversial circumstances sets a dangerous precedent argues Adam Tomes

'The fact that management think they can just sack at will means causes fear amongst workers who fear they could be next at risk'
David Muritu

This month has seen the sacking of four Trade Unionists at Halesowen College in highly controversial circumstances. Saturday 26th January saw over 250 people marched through the streets of Halesowen in protest. The Maths Lecturer, in the eye of the storm, David Muritu stated this was a “moment that struck a chord with many public sector workers across the country”.

The College released a statement that explains their reason for the dismissal of David. It states that 'David Muritu was dismissed for his consistent failure to carry out the fundamental part of the job as a lecturer in the Maths Department, which is to ensure that students fulfill their potential and achieve their expected levels of attainment'. Yet David and the other three Lecturers did not have issues related to competence, had no issues about conduct raised and had no individual classroom capability issues. Indeed their recent internal lesson observations had marked their classroom performance as good.

They were dismissed for the stated reason that their students did not reach expected attainment levels in one single, particular set of results. This sets a dangerous precedent that staff can be removed without any misconduct, despite their hard work and popularity based on a single set of results. Worse, these results cannot be understood in isolation as they are not statistics but real students with real issues inside and outside College that cannot be measured. Further there is no recognition of the job done by management to ensure that staff have the right infrastructure in which to deliver the best teaching. In this case the focus was on the AS results being below College and National averages. Yet David’s A2 results stood at a 100% pass rate with 50% A and B grades. Further to that, there are 49% or all results across the country or within Halesowen College which are below the average. Are all the staff in this 49% to be sacked?

In this case, David and his Union state that the failure to reach attainment levels was due to a series of management mistakes which had been constantly raised by staff attempting to protect their students and ensure that they achieved. The litany of management errors include not paying for specialist cover for long term sickness, expecting staff to cover lessons taking them way above the agreed working hours, cover being provided by non-specialist staff, groups studying different materials being merged to deal with staff shortages and Lecturers being expected to teach two classes in two different rooms at the same time. Essentially, the College hoped to use staff as a scapegoat for all their own failings.

In a period of increasing marketisation of education and cuts to spending, teachers are being placed under growing pressure to meet spurious and inflated targets that are used to define the position of that school or college in the education market. Students are being turned from individuals into commodities and teachers are being increasingly overworked and threatened to make up for the failings of the education system and its funding. Students who won’t achieve a grade that helps a school improve its market standing, will be cast out ensuring that our education system is modeled on increasingly elitist lines.

There is a will to fight back for the Halesowen Four and to fight back to defend our public services. Over 250 people took to the streets in Halesowen on Saturday and over 12,000 people have signed the petition to reinstate David. All these individual fight backs need to be won and they all need to be linked together to build a wider understanding of the threats to our public services and education system. This type of behaviour will only increase as Austerity continues to bite and the Coalition ploughs ahead with its proposals to use performance related pay to further marketise our welfare state. The Peoples’ Assembly called for June 22 needs to resonate with the injustice David Muritu and his colleagues are facing.

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