Why Our Teachers Are Striking
Updated: Jul 6
On Wednesday 18th May 2022 the teachers at Holland Park School, who are members of the NEU (National Education Union) will take strike action. >>UPDATE BELOW<<
The Chair of Governors, Jane Farrell phrases her letters to parents in such a way that teachers and now the NEU are being blamed for not acting in "the students best interests". As we know the governors have not acted in our students' best interests from the get-go, creating a hostile, uncertain environment at the school and in the community with the way they have acted (or not acted).
It is important to highlight here that the only person who has unfettered access to the Holland Park School parent database is Jane Farrell. She can write whatever she likes, whenever she likes and we have no way of verifying the truth of what she has written. (The parent collective did ask to have our details circulated to parents so those who were interested, know we exist but this was refused on numerous occasions.)
Here is her recent message about the strike action:
Please note she says in her letter: "If the action goes ahead, the school will be closed that day for all students except those taking exams so we wanted to give you as much time as possible to prepare for this."
As we noted in our previous blog on the upcoming strike, the NEU had informed the Board of Governors, two weeks ago of their intention to strike and had asked the board to please let parents know as soon as possible so they could make preparations. After a week the board had still not sent any correspondence to the parents, and thus they felt they had to try to find other ways to reach out to the school community and let them know what was happening. The governors are clearly not behaving in the best interest of the students, and it is certain that they have not made any effort to give us parents as much time as possible to make arrangements for our children who will not be able to attend school today.
In fact, the teachers want to call off this strike action. They do not want to strike. They have said that if the Board of Governors will sit down and have a meaningful consultation with them then they will not strike. This strike is a last resort for them. So the reason for this strike sits squarely with the Board of Governors.
Michael Wilmott, NEU Officer, has provided us with a copy of the flyer that the teachers will have with them during the strike action. See below.
On this flyer they have stated that "We wrote to the Governing Body requesting a meeting over 40 days ago. Finally, the Governing Body Chair agreed to meet with NEU representatives last week. When we met, the Chair unilaterally rejected our demands and did not offer anything that could avoid strike action."
Negotiation should be a key skill necessary within a governing body. This Board of Governors have the approach "it's our way, or no way at all". This is not conducive to bringing calm and order to the situation at the school, and is definitely not in the best interests of our children, and the teachers know that.
As one teacher's plackard says:
"We know the students. We know the school. Why not work with us? It could be cool."
If anyone knows kids and education, it is our teachers. They did not become teachers because they'd earn a fortune, they became teachers because they are passionate about their subjects, committed to the value of education and care deeply about giving their students the best opportunities they can.
Teachers cannot speak openly about anything that is happening at the school as their contracts require they do not do anything to "bring disrepute to the school"; clearly speaking up about how the governors are treating them is considered something that would bring the school into disrepute.
In discussion with a parent who believes the school should be given away to United Learning, she said that she didn't care what the parent collective thought, we did not have the knowledge to make choices about what should happen to the school, but she would definitely follow the teachers' lead. She trusted them and their opinion.
The teachers opinion in how Holland Park moves forward is paramount. They are the school. They are the continuity of the school within the community. They are the frame around which the school will continue to exist. What they think matters, so why are the Board of Governors so determined to keep them quiet?
Just because the teachers aren't speaking out does not mean that they are happy. In fact they are stressed, exhausted and emotionally drained thanks to this governing body.
These points are what a teacher would normally expect in a school, followed by what teachers tell me is going on at Holland Park School right now.
They would expect to know who their boss was. At HPS no one is taking responsibility. The interim headteacher regularly tells teachers who raise issues with him that a head teacher would normally handle, "It's nothing to do with me...". When they ask him for support he says he is employed by the governors, intimating he will not stick up for the staff. Good head teachers support and protect their staff.
They would expect to have someone who oversees the work they do, a team or person they have regular meetings with to discuss anything currently going on in their department or with specific students, and someone who'd be there to give encouragement and support when needed. The governors have undermined all these processes that were in place at HPS previously, and decimated the leadership team.
They would need to know that they would be protected if they made a decision about anything - that decision having been made after discussion with appropriate colleagues. Instead teachers have now come to understand that no matter what they do they will not be supported and in fact are likely to be blamed instead.
All the teachers I spoke to told me they did not feel heard. Regardless of how much the governors might say how much they valued their work, their actions showed the opposite - they do not feel valued at all. The board has either ignored them or shut down any conversations and are not listening to them. They have been fighting to be heard since September, now they are at the end of their tether and so the union is taking over their fight for them.
The union has consistently requested dialogue with the board, but have been ignored, and in the one meeting they had, their requests were unilaterally shut down without any alternative offer being suggested. If the Board of Governors continues in this manner then the strike today, Wednesday 18th May, is unlikely to be the last at Holland Park School.
The profound changes the school is undergoing will determine its future for more than a generation. The body of teachers at Holland Park believe that in order for a new successful foundation, and culture, to be created at the school, their active participation is essential. They want to help the decision makers develop a strong, supportive and reflective school community and believe that the board not listening to them, is likely to set the scene for a school that will fail us all.
The teachers I have spoken to over the years and more recently have told me that even with the need for some changes in culture, they are proud to work at Holland Park School, and proud of the work they all do in supporting one of the most uniquely diverse groups of students in education. Making sure each of the diverse students needs are supported isn't easy, and they don't always get things perfect, but they're really proud of what they have achieved in this area. It's way more complicated than you can imagine.
One concern they have about United Learning is their "one size fits all" approach that teachers know will never work at HPS. The GB and UL do not understand the complex diversity issues, and practices that work in schools that have similar types of students just won't work at HPS. In fact United Learning have the highest number of racial "incidents" in the country, which is more evidence they are not catering for diverse student bodies on the pastoral side either.
One teacher told me that returning to work in September they were enthusiastic about finding new ways to support the students further, but the new governing body - brought in by the DfE, seemingly led by Felicity Gillespie (DfE Education Advisor) - has consistently undermined their efforts starting with the exclusion of David Chappell, Deputy Head Teacher, from board meetings as there was "a conflict of interest". No alternative member of teaching staff attended in his stead. The views of experienced staff who know the student base well is so important when considering the school's future. The new GB have brought in a culture to the school that means that anyone not agreeing with their choice, anyone asking questions they don't want to hear, has their lives made difficult. The teachers feel that the GB's actions are all designed to "chip away at their resolve".
The teachers are subjected to regular "briefings" where they are patronised to the point of it being offensive, and where blatant lies are pedalled out by the GB, such as what they were told about Colin Hall's retirement. Suddenly he was absent from the school and they were "briefed" that he had "decided to bring his retirement forward". Teachers told me Colin Hall would never have left the school that was his life without saying a word to anyone.
Regardless of parent or student attitudes toward Mr Chappell, the staff describe him as their rock. He opened and closed the school every day, and took care of the everyday structures that made the school function. With David Chappell gone and the senior leadership team significantly depleted they feel they've noone to rely on. Of the much reduced senior leadership team, at least one has openly resigned - what about the others? Will they stay?
Teachers I spoke to do not want to work under this governing body, whose "business as usual" attitude after Mr Chappell's collapse, a key member of staff, sent a strong message to staff that no-one will care about them either; nor do they want to be forced to work for United Learning, so as parents we are deeply concerned they will leave, depleting the school further.
The teachers are striking because
they are not being heard by the governing body
they are not allowed to talk to anyone who might listen
they are exhausted, deeply stressed and emotionally drained
they are being patronised and lied to
they are clear that the GB is intent on bringing the school to its knees so they can give it to UL to be "saved"
they do not trust this governing board and have no confidence in them
the whole process has been abominable - no transparency, no consultation
they have no other option.
They also care about the future of the school and believe their contribution - if heard - will ensure a successful outcome to the changes happening. They hope through the strike to establish a precedent for honest, open dissent in good faith at the heart of the school's new direction - something they hope will serve the generations of teachers, parents and students long after we've all moved on.
They don't want to leave but feel they are being pushed into resigning. No human being would continue in a job where they are treated the way the board of governors have treated them they say, and they most definitely do not want to work for a huge multi-academy trust based in Peterborough, who has "patronising, mediocre staff already installed in the school".
If we continue to allow this governing board to have any say about what is happening at our school, this will be Holland Park School in September - empty.
Here is a copy of the flyer they will be handing out at the picket line. Please support them.
Please note that the NEU have included the following statement in their flyer:
"Meanwhile we continue to assist exam students to the best of our ability, with a wide range of additional weekend revision classes and the provision of any support for those who need extra help to sit their exams."
As a parent of a Y11 student I can attest to this. We are truly amazed at how they are working through this extremely challenging time in their own working lives, and yet still doing so much to support the students.
Furthermore, the teachers plan to be at the main gate of the school during the strike cheering on and encouraging the students writing exams that day. They will not be staging an angry protest. Many teachers will remain at home. Only six people are allowed to stand on the picket line, however, anyone else who wants to join in can stand with the supportive group to the side. Please note that for contractual reasons teachers will not be able to offer personal opinions or comments on the strike, so please don't ask them about it.
Please stop believing what the governing board are saying. Support our teachers! The fact that they are resigning in droves, breaking down in tears in the classrooms and looking drained, should tell you everything you need to know. What you hear and see on the surface is not the truth. The kids behaviour is not the issue, the governing board's behaviour is.
Here are some individual comments by the teachers that were posted on the NEU social media accounts:
"I am striking because I disagree with the process that the Board of Governors have taken. I believe it's an insult that the students, parents and staff have not been consulted."
"I am defending the interests if the teachers, parents, students and the future of the school."
"I want a voice in how our school is run."
"It is a matter of principle. When you sign up for a job you know which company you are part of; we should be fully aware of the process that ultimately affects our lives and the lives of the children that we care deeply about."
"I am going on strike because we have to hold the governors accountable for their decisions and we demand transparency in the process."
"We should have more input into the MAT we are joining. Although it is not a legal obligation for them to have included us in this process, it would've been the morally right thing to have done since we are here for the students' best interest."
"I'm striking because we, the staff, students and parents, are the ones who are actually affected by the Governors' botched and rushed decision making. I cannot comprehend how they think that only their views matter about our school."
"For me the main reason is, I'm perfectly willing to take the Governors for their word about the process; the problem is the lack of communication with the process. Although the law says that they do not need our opinion, it's still poor that they believe our voice does not matter, which shows a complete lack of respect and interest in our views. Given how central we are always told we are to the school by Governors, it seems odd that our views do not seem to matter for one of the biggest decisions in the school's history. The irony is the governing bodies have always made decisions without causing a problem, however, on this occasion they have destroyed the trust and created problems. The way they work can only work if they maintain trust."
The NEU representatives of the teachers at Holland Park School voted to strike for 12 days during the summer term & will begin striking again in the autumn term.
10 Reasons our teachers don't want United Learning Trust
1. Unworkable hours
2. Prescriptive lesson plans (teaching by power point)
3. Lack of proven success
4. Punitive behaviour policies
5. Firing and hiring of teacher assistants
6. Narrow curriculum
7. Data results prioritised above student development
8. Performance related pay
9. Lack of SEN provision
10. Zero connection to local community
10 Reasons our teachers are still striking
The teachers remain hopeful that they will not need to strike again in the autumn.