Furious war of words between unions and Kingswood academy, with strike action looking likely

john cabotThe NUT and NASUWT representing staff at the John Cabot Academy in Kingswood are “determined to strike at all costs” even though 80% of concerns have been resolved.

But that claim – made today by Steve Taylor, chief executive officer of the Cabot Learning Federation – is a “complete misrepresentation of the situation”, according to union reps who say the remaining issues are the “core” ones.

Mr Taylor said in a statement today: “The Academy has fully resolved over 80% of the concerns put to us by the unions, clearing the way for the dispute to be resolved without the need for strike.

“The academy has now been informed after a series of productive formal meetings that there are new demands being made with one described by Nigel Varley, joint secretary of the NUT as ‘non-negotiable’. The complexity of the new demands and with the unions making themselves unavailable to talk again until the day before the planned strike, it is clear that the union officials and not staff want the strike to go ahead.

Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor

“Our conclusion is that, while the academy has been striving to avoid strike action, for the union officials, striking has been the aim all along. This has been evident from the way the dispute has been accelerated to strike action as a first, rather than last resort and now the way in which the goalposts have been moved, just when averting the strike seemed possible.

“All of the creative solutions in the discussions and the commitment to ongoing and lasting resolution have come from the academy side. We have a formal agreement with all unions that commits all parties to work through concerns via discussion. While this agreement is widely respected by the unions, it is being ignored by the NUT and the NASUWT, who have seen their opportunity to unjustly challenge this academy and inflate local concerns following high profile and damaging industrial action elsewhere.

“We are extremely disappointed for the students that the unions have indicated they will induce their members to strike on Tuesday. We know these unions do not represent the views and opinions of all staff at the academy and that some colleagues have reported that they and others are upset by the unions’ actions and this turn of events.

“We have maintained open communication with parents and carers and will be informing them today that the academy will have to be closed to at least some students on Tuesday.”

Wendy Exton, a National Executive Member of the NASUWT, and Nigel Varley, of the NUT, issued a joint statement this afternoon, denying Mr Taylor’s claim that they want a strike at all costs: “Strikes present us with enormous difficulties and teachers don’t like going on strike. What we do want are schools where teachers feel that they are not under constant pressure and not overwhelmed by workload. In almost all the schools we have been called into we have been able to achieve improvements in working conditions without taking or even threatening to take industrial action.”

They say the four remaining issues are workload, performance management objectives, drop-ins and safety in science labs.

They want a directed time budget for teachers, which includes all that they do during the school day, and to achieve this by reducing teaching hours so that they are in line with other schools: “John Cabot operates a longer teaching day that is longer than other schools. We are not demanding this be done immediately but from September, which is reasonable.”

In terms of performance management objectives they want them reduced to three, which they say is the norm.

They say they have moved a long way on the matter of managers dropping in unannounced to observe teachers’ lessons: “We agree to a review of them being conducted by the whole staff provided that the unions can monitor how this is done and the outcome to protect our members’ interest.”

The reps admit that safety in science labs has “moved up the agenda in terms a settlement” at the insistence of members: “Science classes are too large at JCA for the science labs. Teachers are obliged to use practicals to teach science but cannot do so safely. We have put forward a sensible solution with a reasonable timescale. It has become one of the terms for settlement because we cannot accept any more vague promises. It is a question of children’s safety.”

They said that union representatives had been raising concerns about workload and performance management on the Cabot Learning Federation Consultative Committee for months, if not years: “The problem, is they fob us off all the time and refuse to commit.”

They added: “Up to now, we have not fully understood why the management would not agree with us. None of what we ask for, except improved science labs, require extra cost or substantial school reorganisation. It is now obvious why because they believe there is a conspiracy by the NUT and NASUWT to go round causing strikes.

“They need to understand that the unions were called into JCA by our members; we did not barge in. They need to understand that the 15 issues were drawn up, not by union officers, but by our members in the school. They need to understand that there have been secret ballots overwhelmingly supporting the action. The latest one was a secret ballot yesterday which had a 93% majority supporting the terms for settlement. They need to understand that, after receiving a letter from the management, reading a letter from them to parents and being spoken to for an hour in a staff meeting they went immediately to a union meeting and voted overwhelmingly for action.

“Mr Taylor may take comfort in conspiracy theories but they are not a reflection of reality.  There is a crisis in education. Thousands of teachers are leaving the profession and cannot be replaced.

“We are willing to resolve the dispute through negotiation. For various reasons that has not been possible today but we can meet early on Monday in time to give notice to parents should strike action be suspended or called off. Judging from the tone of Mr Taylor’s statement any meeting looks like it would be a waste of time and that CLF are determined to confront and break teacher trade unions.”