Walthamstow Primary Academy strike Walthamstow Primary Academy strike. Photo: Martin Goodsell

Carole Vincent reports from the NEU picket line at Walthamstow Primary Academy where teachers are taking action over pay, workloads and bullying

Walthamstow Primary Academy is what it says, a primary school in Walthamstow, East London. It is only seven years old and is owned, run and managed by one of the biggest Academy Trusts in the country, United Learning Trust. 

The teaching and support staff are mainly women and the majority are from BAME backgrounds. The area is very diverse so the diversity of staff in this small school reflects this.

On 24 March, the teaching and auxiliary staff, members of the teaching union, NEU, commenced the first of a three-day strike with five more days to follow after the Easter break.

They have had around forty nine issues with the management including the Head Teacher, James Hucknall. Some have been resolved or partially negotiated to a reasonable degree and some of those agreed have since, been reneged on.

I spoke to Regional NEU Officer, Glen Kelly who told me,

‘There are a range of issues from the staff not being paid their contracted rates of pay, to the cost of uniforms for pupils and the workloads endured by teachers and teaching assistants. A further problem is one of the bullying of staff by the management’.

It appears the senior posts are predominantly filled by men.

As the strike started to bite on Tuesday and Wednesday, Glen told me,

‘The Academy has a clause in their contracts which allows them to move staff from one school to another and they are doing just that.

‘They have moved staff from other schools to WPA and are using agency staff to try to bust the strike and they are even using midday supervisors to cover. It is a small school so it is a small amount of staff taking industrial action, around fifteen to eighteen, most are permanent teaching staff and some have been at the school since it opened.’

I commented that other Waltham Forest Schools have been on strike this year and Glen said,

‘Yes, this seems to be a strike wave in Waltham Forest and this is the third dispute this year in which NEU members have taken action. In fact, there are another five currently being balloted!’

I spoke to a striking teacher who also said,

‘Mr Hucknall, the Head Teacher, is just not prepared to negotiate on the pay issue. He has said that the claims of bullying will be investigated and if the strikers are not satisfied with the outcome, he will consider an external, independent investigation.’ 

Moreover, she informed me that many parents, especially those with more than one child, but not exclusively, find the cost of uniforms unaffordable. It appears they can be £80-£100 because some items have to have school logos and are expensive.

It was agreed to investigate support staff workloads, however there have been many occasions in negotiations where agreements to rectify issues have been reneged upon by the management once the meeting has ended. This issue is outstanding. 

The same teacher informed me that the NEU reps are being offered negotiation time slots of just thirty minutes to discuss the issues which are a farce because they are over as soon as they have begun.

One of the Health and Safety reps told me,

‘we had a meeting with the Head Teacher’s ‘boss’ who came from Birmingham. It was an open forum for us all to speak. We did all speak and say what our grievances were and they listened, but after the meeting, we felt we weren’t taken seriously.’

As I stood on the picket line today, a young child with special educational needs was sent home without reason! It is likely one striker commented, ‘there is no SEND teacher to teach him.’ 

Parents were arriving at the school to drop off their children and they were clearly supporting the teachers. A parent came and told me,

‘I am in full support of the teachers on strike. I moved my child to this school because I understood it was a good school, but other parents are moving their children out because of the issues here. 

‘The school seems to focus on what the children look like and if they’ve got the right uniform on, instead of dealing with the bullying and important things in the school. They are good, kind and committed teachers and that’s why they are sticking to their demands, good for them’!

The dispute continues after Easter with five further days of action.

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