Fighting Academies in Brent

Fighting Academies in Brent

A short blog detailing to the nascent and so far trade union dominated fight against academy conversion in Brent, London.

Working in education myself and generally being pissed off since Michael Wilshaw's inflammatory comments, I spent an hour today alongside NUT activists leafleting students as they left Queen's Park Community school. The school, based in Brent in Northwest London, is one of four which the borough is hoping to turn into academies. The other three are Alperton Community School, Preston Manor and Wembley High Technology College. This is on top of local authority plans to close down the Kingsbury Pupil Referral Unit, a specialised facility for students who've been excluded from mainstream schools.

In all four of the schools, the main teaching unions (NUT, NASUWT, and ATL) have balloted members over the plans and a yes vote is widely expected. Unfortunately, support staff unions GMB and UNISON have not taken part in the balloting. This is a problem. Besides a tension that often exists between support staff and teachers, such arbitrary trade union divisions means that members of non-striking unions will be told by their unions to go to work on strike days.

As an education worker, I often find myself wondering why the NUT encourages senior managers to join but bars the TAs who work alongside teachers in the classroom. In any case, workers in these schools need to begin having conversations about the importance of picket lines and not crossing them. This is something we've had some success with at my school, but it's come from workers directly and in defiance of the official advice from both management and the union. And, to continue my tangential rant, the work of convincing workmates not to cross doesn't happen on the picket line. It's about the conversations and meetings that happen in the run up to the strike. The picket line is just the culmination of all that.

Anyway, back in Brent, there is also widespread parent opposition to the plans as the school hasn't even mustered up the effort to go through the required consultation process. In fact, the leaflet we handed out today was an invitation for parents to a mass meeting that will be taking place on the issue this coming Wednesday.

As far as the media goes, as best I can tell, the only coverage has been this article which, to be fair, was on the front page of the generally anti-cuts local newspaper. Perhaps more worryingly, there is nothing about it on the NUT site either.

Brent Council does not appear to be prepared to back down, with a council spokesman saying “If industrial action does take place in any of the schools, then it would be for each school to put in place appropriate contingency plans.”

The remark sounds worryingly reminiscent of the tactics employed by other London schools whereby instead of shutting down schools when staff strike over academy plans, scabs are shipped in to cover classes and ensure the school stays open for students. Teachers, at least in my experience, are not known for their rowdy picket lines. This is perhaps understandable when management closed schools on strike days as a matter of course. However, private and public employers alike are using the crisis to ratchet up the class war from their end. As strikes increase, so will the boss class' propensity to use strikebreakers. So it seems that if education workers are going to have any chance of beating back the government's plan to privatise education and destroy national terms and conditions we're going to have step it up a notch.

Posted By

Chilli Sauce
May 14 2012 23:36


  • As an education worker, I often find myself wondering why the NUT encourages senior managers to join but bars the TAs who work alongside teachers in the classroom.

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Chilli Sauce
May 14 2012 23:33

Yo admins! Can you accept my changes?

Chilli Sauce
May 15 2012 08:05

Thanks y'all!

May 15 2012 17:05

Yo, good post.

By the way, there was a proposal at NUT conference apparently put forward to start letting support staff join. However this was rejected (a big point about the NUT is "professional" unity, of teachers, and defence of the teaching profession).

TBH we shouldn't support this ourselves either. As effectively it would mean you would end up with more rival unions amongst support staff, and also you may split off support staff from other Council workers. And school support staff are about the most important bit of industrial power Council workers have, as they can shut some schools when they strike.

As you say, the key is unity across all unions - and between all workers whether they are any union or not.

May 15 2012 18:10

Yeah I think arguing for support staff to join the teachers union is a distraction. I can't join lots of unions, nor do I want to be able to, but as you both say, unity across union and non-union workers is paramount.

One of the main reasons for fighting academies is their aim to smash national pay and conditions - the STPCD doesn't apply to non-teachers, nor are they in the Teachers Pension Scheme, nor subject to the Ofsted-framework-related performance related pay moves - probably the NUT's 3 'biggest' issues at the minute in terms of their laughable activity. Even in terms of legalism, having support staff in the NUT wouldn't practically impact on the campaigns because of how deep the division between those roles is.

A part problem lies in the faux-professionalism of teaching. In one sense NUT etc fought for this to improve teachers pay and conditions, and that's precisely why the government wants to smash and further proletarianise the 'profession'.

On the other hand, the 'professionalising' served to carve up the education workers, reinforcing the gulf between teachers and support staff. We'd be critical of this 'professionalism' for entirely different reasons to the government - for us it divides workers, for them, they simply want to further erode conditions for one section of the workforce, ultimately enabling them to solidify shit conditions elsewhere in the sector.

TA/LSAs get insulting pay, and focusing on fighting attacks, or to actively improve conditions is far more important that wanting to come under another union's banner.

Chilli Sauce
May 15 2012 22:26

Thanks for the compliments and feedback. I mean y'all know I have no love for the trade unions even if they could be made properly industrial. The comment just reflects the fact that the NUT--supposedly one of the most lefty and militant unions in the UK--still divides the workforce and encourages management to join. But yeah, what matters (and what I hope comes through most strongly in the article) is the need for workers to organise across unions and with non-union workers in the same workplace.

In any case, there's no doubt TAs are being used to undermine the wages and the "professional" skills of teachers. It's been going on for a while be formally--and perhaps more dangerously--informally. It's a serious danger for those of us on both sides of the TA/teachers split. Teachers will see their pay slip. Already most schools no longer use cover teachers, but "cover supervisors" on half the pay. And TAs will be expected to take on more and more responsibility for the fucking penance of a wage they receive.

Steven, you know who I think are the two most untapped sources of industrial power in schools? Kitchen and IT staff. Seriously, they're basically on a par with teachers; the school's fucked if they don't show. Also, interestingly, the two most privatised sections of school staff...

May 15 2012 22:55

Actually I think most heads would happily keep a school open without IT or kitchen staff. You're underestimating their spitefulness! wink

Legally, in terms of safeguarding they'd be covered I think, and that's the single biggest thing they'd be worried about. They'd buy in food for those on FSM and just make teachers do 'chalk n talk' and paper registers (which they have as back up anyway) in absence of IT. All this is much cheaper than paying for supply teachers in the event of teacher strikes (approx 120quid per day per supply teacher, and they must do that as a QTS teacher must be in every class at all times).

Now, if those legally responsible during classtimes, the teachers/supply, don't cross the IT/kitchen picket, now yer talkin' but in and of itself, most heads would be able to stubbornly make do without those sections of staff, out of sheer managerial spite.