Parents claim children are suffering at a school – hit by by eight strike days in two months – saying the school has become “piggy in the middle” in a stand-off between the town hall and the National Union of Teachers (NUT).
They say concerns are growing about the impact on Forest Hill School pupils’ education and welfare from the ongoing dispute between the National Union of Teachers and Lewisham council over budgetary cuts. Pupils’ education at the school in Dacres Road, Forest Hill has already been disrupted from eight strike days and two more strike days are earmarked for the coming week. Parents are now calling for the NUT and the council to resolve the issue and halt the strikes for the run-up to the exam period at the comprehensive boys school.
Martin Powell-Davies the regional secretary of London NUT, told the South London Press the dispute has been extended because, he claims, the council, unlike other local authorities, will not budge from its position of refusing to offer any financial support to alleviate the job cuts.
However, Mike Sullivan, headteacher at Forest Hill School, said: “Unfortunately, Forest Hill School has a substantial budget deficit. The governors and I are working hard to address our school’s financial challenges so that we can live within our means and maintain our focus on improving the quality of education for our students.
“We have formulated a reorganised school structure for next academic year which has kept a high quality of student experience at its core. As a school with a strong tradition and culture in performing arts, it has been very important to me as headteacher to ensure that we maintain a broad and balanced curriculum. I am pleased to say we have been able to secure this, with all currently offered subjects available to all students in each year group next year.
“NUT members are striking because of issues around teacher workload in our reorganised structure. It has been necessary for financial reasons to increase the time that teachers spend teaching classes, but this is within statutory limits. I am absolutely committed to reduce teacher workload at Forest Hill School by all means within my control. To this end we have a Workload Working Party of teachers from all unions with a remit to propose concrete measures in order to reduce workload around marking, planning, data entry and report writing. I’ve asked the group to think creatively and its recommendations will be taken forward for implementation.
“In order to meet the NUT’s demands around a reduction in teacher loading, extra teachers would need to be employed and this would incur a cost of at least £200,000 per annum. This is money which cannot be found from within the school’s resources while we are in the process of recovering such a substantial deficit.
“It saddens me that strike action is affecting the education of our students, particularly those who are sitting public examinations at this time. Parents are rightly concerned about the uncertainty and disruption the action creates. I’m grateful that most parents are keeping faith with the school at this difficult time but I don’t take them for granted. I know that some, despite their allegiance to the school community, are considering moving their children to other schools. This would be a terrible shame.I remain committed to finding a resolution to the dispute with the NUT and reiterate my determination to reduce teacher workload by all means possible within the financial constraints we face.”
One mum, who did not want to be named said: “The action that is being taken at Forest Hill School due to cuts seems to not have an end in sight. The school is piggy in the middle, while Lewisham and the NUT seem unable or unwilling to find a lasting solution. In the meantime the boys are missing school and their education is completely disrupted. As parents, we are enormously worried for the school, and the pupils. Forest Hill is a very good school and we want everyone involved to do everything they can to preserve the high standards and support the teachers in their efforts.
“Foremost we want our boys’ education to not become ruined by this terrible stand-off between the NUT and the local authority or the cuts that the school have had to put in place. We need them to remember to put the pupils first.”
Another mum said: “I am confused why there are still strikes at the school. In the beginning I was fully behind the strike days and wanted to show my support for the school. Now after eight days, my boys are suffering along with all the other boys. I’m afraid I’ve lost the plot on why the NUT is still calling for more strike days when the other unions in the school have agreed to talks.
“I’m worried about the impact of this ongoing strike action on the stability of the school, on staff morale, on teacher-student relationships, on student morale and worse on student academic achievement. I just wish all the teacher unions at the school could work together, with the school leadership team to resolve this dispute without further strike action.”
A dad, who did not want to be named said: “I think it is a bit rich really as parents get penalised if they take their children out of school for just one day. If it is thought just one day missing school disrupts a child’s education then what must all these strike days do. I can’t imagine the teachers are using these days for planning classes I suspect they are just standing on the picket lines. My sympathy for the teachers has long since evaporated.
“The council has said that it is not able to help financially and so striking is pointless now – it is not going to benefit anyone. I am shocked that the dispute is still continuing at Forest Hill whereas it is not at other schools.”
Another parent said: “I am very disappointed, frustrated, even angry with the level of recent industrial action at Forest Hill School. I do sympathise with the situation staff find themselves in, however I am in full support of the headteacher who has clearly had to make some difficult and unpopular decisions in what seems to be the best interests of the school and its pupils.
“I have a son in Year 10 who is missing out on important learning time so close to his final year. This level of strike action is not putting my son’s education, or the education of the other pupils first.
Mr Powell-Davies said: “We are looking to suspend the two strike days next week in the interests of the children’s education and welfare. Our members really want to support the pupils especially in the run up to the exam period. We are willing to show flexibility in our position but in return we would like the council to also show some flexibility on its position and provide additional financial support to meet its budget deficit. But so far there has been absolutely no movement from the council from this position. There has been no genuine negotiations – there needs to some give and take.
“The situation at Forest Hill School has been unlike any other of the other schools across London facing budget deficits. There has been a series of disputes all across London and in no other case has there been complete intransigence from the local authority as there has been from Lewisham council which has completely refused to budge from its position.
“We are very pleased that the dispute between Plumstead Manor and Greenwich council has now been resolved through genuine negotiations. The school had deficit similar to Forest Hill but the council has found way to support the school. This has been done by arranging an extension to the school’s repayments to its loan from the council. Greenwich council has also given the school some funds from its central education budget.
“It is unique across London for eight strike days to be needed to be taken. Our contact with parents has found huge concerns over the damage to the school from the £1.3million staffing cuts. There are going to be significant job losses – this includes 19 non-classroom staff posts, four classroom support jobs and 15 teaching posts.
“It is precisely the impact on the more vulnerable children of these cuts which the parents, teachers and other staff are concerned about and why teachers are prepared to take action until it is resolved. The level of cuts will impact heavily on support for children with special needs and will make it a struggle to provide sports and important extra curriculum activities.
“The increase on staff workloads will affect the welfare of pupils. We do not believe the council have shown the cuts to staff are justified. The National Audit Office for schools says schools should be making cuts to teaching staff to meet deficits only as a last resort as this will have a detrimental effect on educational outcomes.”
The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) initially took part in the strike action for which the first day was on March 21. In April following negotiations with the headmaster Mike Sullivan and the council the unions members withdrew from the action. The moves has meant the school has been able to run some classes on the strike days.
Lewisham Mayor Steve Bullock said “The governing body and headteacher of Forest Hill School have had to act quickly to address the school’s budget deficit and I appreciate how difficult this has been for staff. I am pleased that the headteacher is continuing negotiations on teacher workload mitigation to end this dispute so that the pupils at Forest Hill do not lose any more of their education.”
He told SLP: “There has been an human resources officer from the council at all the negotiating meetings with the NUT with a clear mandate to help find a solution which avoids industrial action without compromising the school’s agreed budget plan. The headteacher and the director for children and young people also met with Martin Powell Davies and a rep from the school last week to aid the resolution of the dispute.”