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Strike against Ark academy


On Thursday 19 March, there was a successful joint strike of 47 NUT and 9 NASUWT members at The Royal Docks Community School in the Newham, east London.

The action was in pursuance of the union’s trade dispute with Newham Authority over its attempted imposition of an Ark academy by September 2010 and follows an equally effective NUT strike in December. The unions rarely take joint action, and it shows the strength of feeling against the imposition of academy status with a private sponsor.

There has been no consultation about whether an academy is the right way forward for the school. No debate to justify the alleged benefits of academy status. No satisfactory explanation why Ark is regarded by the Council as the best option.

Ark wishes to reorganise the school in three major ways. First, it does not want to continue the provision of the existing PMLD Unit (Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties), important to the successful continuation of inclusion in Newham's schools. Second, it seeks to reduce the current 8 forms of entry to 6, which would limit the number of pupils from the nearby community that could attend the school and put pressure on other secondary schools' admission policies. Third, it wants to develop a sixth form, thereby undermining the local sixth form college. In addition, there are strong rumours circulating to the effect Ark would like to either assume control of one or two local primary schools or include primary age children on its main site, in a 3-18 school.

Joint picket line
Photo: Newham Teachers Association

On the strike day the school was closed and members and officials of both unions took part in a series of mutually supportive campaigning activities to bring home the message of what an Ark academy would mean. There was a joint picket line. Parents taking their children to 7 of the feeder primary schools were leafleted and the effects an Ark Academy would have on the primary sector clearly outlined. And in the nearby Royal Docks ward, where there is a forthcoming by-election, strikers conducted house-to-house distribution of a leaflet declaring that the major issue in the by-election must be “Sink The Ark Academy: Save The Royal Docks School” and asking voters to vote for anti-academy candidates. Although support has been slow developing in the community, there are signs that the tide of opinion is turning in favour of halting the academy.

The next four months are crucial. A borough “consultation” about the Ark academy is in the offing. The anti-academy campaign needs to influence this. The “consultation” needs to be transformed into a public referendum on the demerits of academies and the merits of retaining, while improving, state education. In particular, there needs to be a call demanding ballots of all those affected, with both sides of the case being presented beforehand to all parents, students, governors, teaching staff, of The Royal Docks School.

Let there be democracy. Let there be true consultation. But the issue does not just affect The Royal Docks School. All the primary feeder schools and their stakeholders need to demand participation in the consultation process too. They too should request ballots. Ultimately, every school in Newham will be affected if The Royal Docks School is closed and Ark academy is created, as other secondary and primary schools will then face the threat of academies in the future. The time to fight is now!

Because of the Authority’s refusal to accept alternatives, NUT and NASUWT members have been left with no option but to take strike action, to raise the issues with the public and to bring pressure on the local elected representatives to carry out the views of the electors.