School strikes: those seen as brave are at the back of the queue

As angry teachers mark the anniversary of the industrial action that ended the bitter dispute over new sick pay arrangements, our top nurses say they are being bullied and called ‘aliens’ by government bodies

As angry teachers mark the anniversary of the industrial action that ended the bitter dispute over new sick pay arrangements, our top nurses say they are being bullied and called ‘aliens’ by government bodies

Striking teachers in Dudley on the National Union of Teachers picket line. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

On Thursday 20 July, we mark the anniversary of the final mass wave of industrial action in one of the longest drawn-out industrial disputes of modern times.

Teachers at Dudley’s small primaries, faith schools and comprehensives were on strike for a week of strikes in an attempt to force Michael Gove to cut proposed changes to sick pay.

Whilst these days we hear so much about Tory contempt for public sector workers, especially those who do not own their own houses, or work for companies like BT, the tone of the media coverage was barely more than that of the ‘good old days’, with Peter Hain announcing that student teachers were ‘paid too much’, while others claimed that industrial action was harming children.

In fact, it was worse then, and the Communication Workers Union were the ones leading the strike. In the week before the strike I went to visit the Stockton Park School in Dudley, our largest provider.

These are some of the same staff who valiantly co-operated for nearly five years with the RSPCA, alongside the families of abused animals, giving permission for all manner of remote controlled deterrents, including feeding of skunks, would be put in place outside their school on any visit by a visiting RSPCA officer.

No doubt, with the teachers, inspectors believed the school over those we gave permission for schools to place educational drones outside in order to deter, as it were, the would be officers.

During my visit, what struck me more than anything was the level of abuse and intimidation of our staff – teachers, PTA organisers, any staff person approached in the school and indeed in the common room, by the school’s governing body. The ‘big brother’ approach towards one of the most under-valued and under-protected parts of the school, is constant.

As a nurse, I feel that these repeated aggressive actions by the governing body will give them a license to rule with impunity, with the further threat that this behaviour will have its legal and personal cost.

The size of the bursary fund of Stockton Park School and Trust, compared to those of many of their academy peers, reflects to me that this is a school that effectively gives long-term sick and injured staff a minimum wage for their work.

At the end of my visit I posed a question to the school’s principal, Stephen Smith, who said in answer: “You’re here because you are brave, but I have to say this to you, we are not vicious people, we are going to get in that hardy group that we are and we’re going to work that hard, but we are not going to hit you with it because it’s just not going to work.”

I left that building that day thinking: “You’re right, if the academisation proposal is passed, and our voices aren’t heard, then we may as well not bother going in at all.”

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