On 8-9 December, National Education Union (NEU) members at Newham Sixth Form College in Plaistow went on strike to protest the unfair and unacceptable conditions that the college management are subjecting their staff to.
The staff feel that they haven’t been managed well for a number of years, and have had no choice but to go on the offensive.
The issues include a culture of bullying, and also the massive increases in workload (assessed and graded work) for both staff and students. One example of this is that some teachers were given around 150 students' targets to set in four days, including the weekend.
No to academisation
The strike is also over the issue of academisation, where the college management are actively ‘exploring the option’ of forming a multi-academy trust, which is not what the staff want.
A striking NEU member said the following:
“Instead of pushing further with the privatisation of the college, the management should be tackling the bullying culture, and giving guarantees that the college will start reducing workload for teachers and support staff.”
“We categorically do not want the college to become an academy. We’d be happy if the college and the governing body made a statement to that effect. We are a community college and we’re very inclusive, our courses are open for absolutely everybody.”
“This is not the model of academisation. Academies are more selective, they take away from that inclusive principle that the college was founded upon.”
The striking staff were also keen to point out that the teachers and staff were also on strike for the sake of the students, whose education is being impacted by the decisions of the college management.
Reference was made to the arbitrary increases in workload having a clear impact on students’ mental health and self-esteem.
The strikers were also concerned about the impact that academisation would have on the quality of education provided to the students.
The academy system is simply a way of sneaking in privatisation of the education system. Rather than improving the education system, all the evidence points towards academies underperforming when compared to schools.
Research has shown that two-thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils, and that too many chain sponsors continue to struggle to improve the results of their most disadvantaged students.
Turning Newham Sixth Form – which is located in an overwhelmingly working-class area – into an academy would be disastrous for the students as well as the teachers and staff.
In relation to the question of student and teacher solidarity, the NEU member stated clearly:
“We do regret having to take this action and disrupt education, but we feel like it’s for the long-term benefit of the students and users of the college.”
Solidarity between teachers and students is essential to the victory of the strike. Students and other supporters should join their teachers on the picket lines to put pressure on the college management.
In February last year, Bromley Library workers won a hard-fought struggle against their private employer who was using similar bullying tactics to demoralise and ‘break’ the union staff, in their drive to cut 40 jobs.
The workers stood firm however, and ultimately won out after eight months of action. That they were able to last this long was down to the enormous solidarity shown to them by the local community and sister unions, who stood with them on the pickets and raised money to keep the strikers fighting.
The Bromley library workers demonstrated concretely how industrial action can win, provided that workers stand together in solidarity. Students can very capably play this role during a school strike, and every effort must be made to convince them of the need to do so.
Ultimately, a free, high quality education system that is fully-funded and staffed is only possible under a socialist plan of production, in which all the key areas of the economy – the big monopolies and the banks – are expropriated and brought under democratic workers’ control.
Parents, teachers, staff and students could then use these resources to run schools for their own benefit and for the benefit of the local community, as opposed to schools being run as profit-making businesses.
The first step towards this is the teaching unions to ballot for further industrial action in defence of members at Newham and beyond, and to appeal for support from other public sector unions across the country.
This way, a common struggle against austerity can be built, culminating in a public sector strike to bring down the government. The NEU is currently beginning a national consultation on further strikes, in order to fight for an eight percent increase across all pay scales.
Students in schools and colleges across the country should mobilise in support of their striking teachers. Open meetings of staff and students should be held to discuss a common programme of struggle.
The struggle of the teaching unions needs to be linked with the students’ struggle for free education. This way, mass support can be built for the strike – and we can ultimately win.
We call for:
- The full acceptance of the NEU demands and an immediate reduction in the unmanageable workload of staff and students.
- An immediate end to bullying and intimidation from the college management.
- No to academisation and privatisation of education!
- A campaign to vote for the 8% pay rise demand from the NEU national leadership, and to mobilise for national strike action in coordination with public sector unions to achieve this.