Teachers at Oak Park school continue to strike for safety and against bullying from management, reports Carole Vincent
On Saturday, striking staff from the NEU took their case to Ilford Town Hall and to a thriving shopping precinct, as yet, oblivious to the plight of the staff at Oak Park, Local Authority school in Ilford.
The NEU safety representative Keiran Mahon, was sacked in May 2021, for trying to do his job. The problem started as previously reported, during the 2020 Covid pandemic.
Staff at the school had been working remotely but were then summoned by the headteacher to return to the school to teach. On 4 January, 250 plus staff were being expected to go into the building to teach. This was happening at the height of the pandemic, in a borough where cases of Covid were rising rapidly along with infection rates.
Some members of staff believed it was unsafe to return to their classrooms at this time and 26 members of staff said they did not believe the building to be safe, exercising their legal right to trigger Section 44 of the Employment Act.
They were not refusing to teach, they were already teaching remotely, however the headteacher refused their request and ordered staff to return to the school regardless. Following the Section 44 request being submitted, there was allegedly a campaign of systematic bullying launched against the teachers.
Along with another NEU representative, Keiran attended a joint union risk assessment meeting which Keiran describes as an 'aggressive, aggressive meeting' and his subsequent disciplinary hearing was even more aggressive.
Keiran states his reason for taking out the Section 44 was because his partner was in the third trimester of her pregnancy and he believed a return to face-to-face teaching in the school with 250 staff and pupils could pose a threat to her, his unborn child and vulnerable staff, key workers and pupils.
The headteacher failed to appreciate that this was the case from the 26 Staff who triggered Section 44 on the basis of the school being an unsafe working environment. It took three days and balloting the entire NEU membership in Redbridge schools to take supportive strike action, before Jas Athwal, Redbridge Council Leader and Colin Stewart, Head of DfE, stepped in, reportedly, to save their reputation.
Saturday’s protest is not the first time the union, supported by other Unions both locally and further afield, have rallied to try to get the Labour Council Leader, Jas Athwal, to stop supporting an allegedly bullying headteacher, to stop brushing the matter under the carpet and to instead support the members of the union in their concerns around safety, for all who attend Oak Park School.
The NEU members on strike want nothing more than to sit around the table & resolve this matter. I spoke to the striking staff who told me they want to get back to teaching but they won't give up their fight and neither will the NEU.
We heard from other speakers from unions and the father of a striker who is deaf and has allegedly had lies written about her.
The rally was vibrant with the music teacher leading vibrant renditions of 'The Union makes us strong!' It was clearly a show of strength at Ilford Town Hall and there was plenty of support from the public who were shocked to hear what was happening, including some parents of children at Oak Park who told me they would be contacting the Council and Governors at the school to resolve the matter speedily.
The strike continues on Thursday 16 September outside Oak Park School from 7-10 am.
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