“Sustained and continuous” strike action to begin at N London school seen as at forefront of campaign against DfE ‘forced academies’ policy

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Teachers at one of the schools on the front line of campaigning against the Coalition’s ‘forced academies’ policy are striking today in what they say will be ‘sustained and continuous’ industrial action.

The government intends to force Downhills primary school in Tottenham, North London into ‘academy’ status by September 2012, despite objections from teachers, unions and many parents.

NUT rep, Phil Brett told UnionNews: “We don’t want to strike, but we’ve been forced into this to defend the school and to support the parents, because they don’t want academy status either.”

Downhills is currently being managed by an Interim Executive Board, which was installed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, after the previous governors refused to accept academy status and were dismissed by the Department for Education.

“It’s been incredibly stressful time for all the staff, having the IEB in here, but we’ve had superb support from the parents,” said Phil Brett.

Staff are in dispute with the local education authority, Haringey, over the transfer of their contracts to the proposed new employer, the Harris Federation, which was founded by the Tory peer and board member of Arsenal Football Club, Lord Harris of Peckham.

UNISON is also currently balloting its members at the school.

There has been a series of protests and demonstrations organised by parents and community support groups, designed to try to persuade Haringey council to put up a stronger defence of the case for keeping Downhills under local authority control.

The NUT says it is ‘disappointed’ that councillors have so far only been ‘lukewarm’ in their support for the school.

NUT general secretary, Christine Blower, said: “Forcing academy status on schools has nothing whatsoever to do with standards but everything to do with the break up of our education system.

“The free schools and academies programme is neither wanted nor needed. Michael Gove is simply playing fast and loose with tax payers’ money and the future education of generations”

The Harris Federation currently runs 13 schools and says it has plans to take over a further five schools in London by September 2013.

It is currently the ‘preferred option’ to take over Downhills, despite an earlier vote among parents who rejected the idea of forcing academy status on the school by more than 90%.

Two senior figures connected to the Harris Foundation – including its chief executive, Daniel Moynihan – currently sit on the consultative board which will recommend which organisation secures the bid to run the school after this September.

Phil Betts said: “The consultation process is so vague and Gove has the power to impose academy status on us anyway, it means our only option is to up the campaign.”

At issue for the NUT is the change in employment conditions for the Downhills teachers if they are transferred the another employer.

The Harris Foundation has a pay policy which allows the school principal personally to vary the salaries of staff.

Said Phil Betts: “To be honest, they could offer us a 100% pay increase and we’d still be opposed to academy status.

“The principle at stake for us is that this is an attack on public sector education – and we’re opposed to it on principle.”


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