Friday, April 08, 2011

School strikes over staff safety

You'll have seen the news about the school that went on strike yesterday over 'pupil behaviour'. An impressive seventy staff members attended the NUT / NASUWT picket line of the smallish Darwen Vale High School.

The Head commented that "I am disappointed that the trade unions have chosen to take this action. The vast majority of pupils at Darwen Vale behave well and take their education seriously. We are in discussions with the unions and with the staff around how we can best resolve this situation so that staff feel well supported when they do need to deal with behaviour issues."

For me this totally misses the issue. The staff are *not* taking strike action against the behaviour of the kids, they are taking action against *management* behaviour which has led to any allegation, no matter how flimsy, leading to staff suspensions - more than 6% of staff members over the last year. It's the management eagerness to suspend staff that's the problem, not the fact that a minority of pupils are not well behaved.

While the head talks about staff feeling well supported it appears that she has pursued a policy of consistently taking action against staff members and making it impossible for them to enforce, for example, the no mobile phone policy.

The Independent writes that "The striking staff members claim the arrival of £80,000-a-year head Hilary Torpey has resulted in the sudden deterioration in relations between management and staff." This seems like an important point to me as much of the press are playing up the 'bad kids' angle, but surely the emphasis has to be on the 'ruthless management' part of the equation.

Simon Jones, National Executive Member for the NUT, said:

"Members are taking strike action as a last resort because of the head teacher’s continued denials that there is a problem with pupil behaviour in the school and her refusal to engage properly with staff and unions to find effective solutions to these challenges. Staff and unions have been raising concerns for the last two terms but the Head has rejected repeated requests for earlier meetings to try to resolve this dispute informally.

"We regret that this industrial action is necessary and recognise that it will affect pupils’ education for a day. However we have timed the strike to avoid disrupting any examinations taking place and in the long run we believe resolving these behaviour management issues will benefit all the staff and pupils.

"Negotiations are due to resume after the Easter holidays and it is hoped that further strike action can be avoided provided the Governors take the necessary steps to ensure teachers have the support they need to manage pupil behaviour effectively".

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