Join us on Friday 26 May for a quiz fundraiser for Prendergast support staff who have been on strike against academisation of Prendergast schools, put on by Prendergast parents and community supporters.
The venue is New Cross Learning, SE14 6AS. Doors open at 7pm, drinks will be sold. Quiz starts at 8pm. Come as a team or come as an individual – there will be no problem joining a team.
Come to this meeting on Thursday 25th May 2023 at 19:00-21:00 at Myatt Garden Primary School, Rokeby Road, London SE4 1DF to find out.
At this meeting, Lewisham NEU officers and members will explain why they oppose academisation. Members from Prendergast will explain why they have taken the difficult decision to take strike action against this. There will be plenty of time for questions and contributions from the floor.
By James Kerr, Lewisham NEU Assistant District Secretary
I am writing this blog directly to parents of students in the Leathersellers Federation in response to questions and criticisms of Prendergast NEU members’ decision to take extensive strike action against the proposal to convert the Federation into a Multi Academy Trust. I will let Prendergast members speak for themselves and attach their statement as an addendum and would encourage you to speak to them directly. I am writing because I have been referenced repeatedly in relation to the campaign and think it is important I try to state as clearly as possible my view on this situation.
The first thing to say is we fully understand and acknowledge that the action is highly disruptive. Unfortunately, that is the nature of strikes and, for those of us working in education, we get that disruption to children’s lives causes stress and struggle. We don’t opt for strike action lightly and we always exhaust other avenues before balloting members.
Some have argued that it is not our action that is the problem but the fact that it is ‘disproportionate’. There have been a significant number of days agreed by Prendergast NEU but this is in response to a complete unwillingness of the Governing Board to respond to staff’s opposition to MAT conversion. Industrial action isn’t a symbolic protest, it is designed to change the employer’s approach and, if we thought a one day strike would be enough to shift them, then that is what we would have called. As I’ll explain later in the post, we would suspend or cancel action immediately if certain conditions were met and the power is very much in the Governing Board’s hands on that.
What hasbecome clear in the last few weeks is that the schools do not function without classroom teachers and support staff, regardless of how good leadership or governance is.
My appeal to you is, if you value our members’ labour, which we know you do because the withdrawal of that labour has caused such upset, then we would hope you also value our members’ views on this huge issue.
The Governing Board has not valued their opinions and implied in numerous ParentMail messages to you that they are naive, gullible and easily manipulated by sinister external forces who don’t have children’s interests at heart, namely Lewisham NEU officers Eleanor Davies (primary school teacher and Prendergast parent!) and me (secondary school English teacher who started working in Lewisham schools in 2008).
It was clear from the outset that our members had a deeply and widely felt opposition to MAT conversion, not because of spurious arguments we made, but because so many of them have worked in academies in the past and so have real lived experience to shape their opinion. Many have consciously chosen to not work in MATs by being at Prendergast because they disagree with the pedagogical and organisational patterns that have developed within so many MATs. We will be sharing a collection of testimonies from Prendergast members later in the week about their experiences of working in MATs.
It is worth recapping the timeline of this academic year to understand how we have got to this stage. In September, our members came back to school ready to spend the year focussing on educating and supporting your children. There was an awareness that there was the potential for national action on pay but no hint that there may be a local dispute of this nature on the horizon. Unbeknownst to them, the Governing Board already had a worked up proposal for academy conversion. This wasn’t shared or hinted at until a special meeting was put into the calendar for the week after the February half term. Staff were a little anxious that this meeting might be something serious so one of our reps approached Paula Ledger to ask what the meeting was about and was told it was “nothing to worry about”.
In that meeting staff were given a glossy presentation in favour of MAT conversion and told that a six week consultation would begin there and then on the proposal. Students were also given special assemblies on this with no opportunity for anyone with an alternative view to present their case.
Very well attended NEU meetings (bigger even than meetings held during the national pay ballot) were held within days in every school and motions passed opposing the proposal which included a commitment to take industrial action if all other avenues weren’t successful.. We had no recorded votes against those motions and only a handful of abstentions. This was communicated to Governors and meetings were arranged between them and our reps but they weren’t fruitful and it became clearer that the consultation was set up in order to have only one outcome, MAT conversion. Over the six week consultation, NEU participated in every formal consultation meeting (some had very low attendance and so many of you won’t have heard the arguments we made in them), distributed 40000 leaflets explaining our position, produced thousands of posters, held a big public meeting, supported parents opposing the MAT with a Saturday open morning in Ladywell, organised a Saturday demonstration of 400+, protested at Leathersellers Hall in the City twice, organised stalls and shared our views on social media. We asked if we could share a statement with you on ParentMail but this was ignored and at no time have we been invited to offer an alternative perspective within the formal consultation. Now the Governors are only paying serious attention to the organisation that represents the vast majority of its teaching staff because we have taken industrial action.
Another strange argument being raised by Governors is that this is all politically motivated. This is disingenuous. Whether with a big or little p, education policy is always a political issue. We are in one of the deepest crises in education in living memory; massive underfunding, a worsening teacher recruitment & retention crisis, Ofsted’s credibility in tatters and the whole system teetering. This is the result of Tory education policy and austerity in the public sector but the central plank of Conservative education policy has been the expansion of MATs. That’s what they’ve prioritised above everything else the profession has flagged up. So by enacting that policy, what the governors are doing is intensely political. They need to own that and be declarative and stop hiding behind claims of being ‘apolitical’.
My politics on education are built on a belief in comprehensive state education where schools are genuinely democratically accountable to their communities. I don’t hide that. If the teachers at Prendergast had politics that jarred with that view, I wouldn’t be listened to.
The ‘it’s a political campaign’ argument has also been thrown up because they wanted to construct a legal case against the NEU’s legitimate action and instructed Winkworth solicitors to send a series of (expensive) legal letters they have never followed up on. This argument about it being ‘political’ is designed to paint the picture that opposition to this MAT is driven by bureaucrats in offices in local or national NEU offices and not by the people who work with your children every day. A 95% YES vote for strike action on an 82% turnout is not the result of bureaucrats meddling but because there is opposition.
So why do we oppose academisation? It’s worth reading or rereading the leaflet we produced on this for detail. It’s not all about staff working conditions but also deals with pedagogy, student outcomes and wellbeing. You can find it HERE. The Governors have suggested they won’t be like all the other MATs and will do things differently but, it is hard to have faith that a body that has behaved in the way it has during this consultation period, and in the vote they took in the face of such opposition, is going to be the refreshingly attentive and open MAT they claim they’ll be (a separate blog post will follow on this point soon).
So are we just going to entrench ourselves around an immovable position and not compromise? No. We went to ACAS for a full day of negotiation in the first week of the strike to try to resolve the dispute. At that meeting we explained that we wanted the Governing Board to withdraw its proposal entirely but that we were willing to explore other options to enable us to suspend action. We proposed the setting up of a Governance Working Party to try to solve the issues around governance. We explained that we represent members in 23k workplaces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and could pool immense resources to try to solve this issue. We argued that a substantial delay would enable a working party to explore options sufficiently. If the Working Party couldn’t find a viable alternative, it would immeasurably strengthen their case for academisation. A delay would also enable all stakeholders to fully understand the meaning of this irreversible proposal and hear different points of view. An upcoming General Election could also change the political context schools are operating in. A delay would also avoid disruption during exam season and take the heat out of the situation. We suggested a working party, with agreed terms of reference, could work for up to a full academic year exploring all options, report in summer 2024 and then the consultation could reopen in September 2024 if necessary.
The Governing Board felt this was too long a delay so we anticipated a counter offer with a shorter timescale. Their counter was to offer to delay the decision on conversion from May 3rd 2023 to June 1st 2023 with no change in the conversion timetable. We didn’t feel that changed anything. They accepted our suggestion of a Governance Working Party but said they wanted it to run in parallel with applying for academy orders and starting the process of conversion. We questioned how this would work and whether a working party could genuinely explore a range of options when conversion was already in process.
We reiterate our desire to resolve this dispute and believe a decent delay is in everyone’s best interests and would enable us to suspend all of the action we have announced. We are open to suggestions on timescale for this in order for it to be workable. We hope to be in talks this week and will be successful in agreeing a way forward.
What is being proposed is not inevitable nor unstoppable. At St Ursula’s in Greenwich, after widespread opposition to them joining the South East London Catholic Academy Trust and a ballot for industrial action by NEU, a delay similar to what we are suggesting was agreed.
This proposal is irreversible and will have an impact for generations to come and will impact students currently in schools that aren’t part of the Federation. We think it is a decision worth taking time over and getting right.
There have been cases in Lewisham where schools have converted without strikes or huge opposition because our members have not been convinced, Childeric being an obvious example. We warned of potential future dangers and explained what could be done about it but there wasn’t sufficient opposition to warrant a campaign or strike ballot. We don’t manufacture dissent, we are guided by our members.
My ‘boss’ in this instance is not Kevin Courtney or Mary Bousted (NEU General Secretaries) but the teachers and support staff in membership at Prendergast.
The general feeling is that the Federation is working and members want to constructively address the concerns about governance and collaboration and, as educational experts with hundreds of years of collective experience in the classroom, have a lot to offer but it is hard for them to offer that when they feel they are being railroaded into a decision that they don’t feel takes into consideration their views.
As someone who has worked at a school immediately after academy conversion I’ve heard many of the arguments being made before and know how things can turn out. I have shared my thoughts, experiences and observations but had they not resonated, I would just be a man talking to himself.
We are fully committed to getting round the table this week and resolving this dispute. We don’t want to take anymore strike action unnecessarily, believe me. We hope that we can have an ongoing dialogue with a wider group of parents to discuss and debate our position on academisation and refine it based on your ideas too.
Letter to Leathersellers’ Federation parents & carers on the upcoming industrial action from NEU members:
National Education Union members in the Leathersellers’ Federation have voted overwhelmingly to take strike action against the proposal of the Governing Board to form a Multi Academy Trust from September 2023. The reason we were balloted at this time is because the governors are meeting on May 3rd to decide whether to go through with becoming a Multi-Academy Trust: the dates are not arbitrary.
o Context on the strike ballot
The YES vote was over 95% across the Federation’s three schools on an 81% turnout. Our
members – the teachers and support staff of these schools – are resolute that they do not want a MAT to be formed and want to stay within the Local Authority Family of Schools. It is critical for parents to be aware that our support staff colleagues have also balloted and it is looking increasingly likely that they will be joining our industrial action shortly.
The announcement for NEU industrial action came on the final day of the six week consultation during which the NEU reps and Governors met multiple times throughout. The Governing body knew precisely what was at stake. However, they have chosen not to make reasonable adjustments within that time frame which has left teachers with no option but to take industrial action. We have repeatedly put our points across many times: these strike dates were a last resort.
o The impact of the ballot
We hoped the ballot result would encourage the Governing Board to recognise that their proposal does not have the support of the school communities, and that it is an unnecessary distraction at a time of year when our members want to be focussing on supporting students, many of whom are about to sit public exams. We were told by governors that Spring Term was chosen for the MAT consultation as it would be the least disruptive time in the academic year. The Governing Body decided the timing of the consultation in the knowledge that any strike action (which they themselves anticipated) could impact on the student examination period. Teachers at LSFed schools are 100% committed to supporting our students through their exams. There will be dispensation for any members needed for practical exams. In response to being quoted by the Governing body in its communications to staff and parents, Dr Mary Bousted (General Secretary of NEU) responded: “I said that I thought members would not take national strike action during the exam period. The situation is different if there is a different local timescale for forced academisation. They are deliberately mixing up two disputes.”
o ACAS mediation
On Thursday 20th April 2023, we were invited to negotiate with the Governing body. We
welcomed these ACAS mediated talks which lasted 7 hours. Our position was made clear from the onset and was based on the aforementioned vote. We showed flexibility and were prepared to compromise by suggesting a meaningful delay in which the MAT proposal could be properly explored and alternatives suggested. However, the Governors did not offer flexibility in their suggestions – in fact their proposals were insubstantial and did not in any way reflect our members’ will. Had the Governors suspended their proposal, we would have willingly suspended our strike action. However, we now have no option but to strike.
Industrial action is not a decision that we have taken lightly. We do not believe that conversion to a MAT is in our students’ best interests and will continue to oppose this proposal. The NEU staff have requested to put out a statement similar to this on ParentMail, but have as yet not received a response.
Prendergast Governing Board recently released some of the confidential minutes from meetings that discussed the proposed academisation. They redacted key information they didn’t want you to see. Thankfully, the NEU has been passed the original uncensored documents and can reveal some interesting details.
Telling porkies on pay?
The Governing Board recently have written to staff and parents claiming they will guarantee pay and conditions for staff after the Multi Academy Trust is formed. It is unsurprising then that they wanted to hide the fact that there have already been discussions on the Governing Board, in April 2022, about changing the pay policy. We quote the redacted section in full for clarity (our emphasis):
“Update from Due Diligence Working Party Chair & Paper from DHR 6.1 The Chair updated on the recent meeting to explore HR considerations. A potential change relates to moving away from the LA Model Policy, and adopting a Federation Policy giving more flexibility on adopting certain aspects of STPCD [School Teachers Pay & Conditions Document], although this is not necessarily tied to academisation. A proposal would be brought on this update to the Pay Policy, independent of the consultation on academisation.”
This is no shock. Ultimately, this is how academies save money, by cutting wage costs, and it’s why they want financial autonomy. Should we take their word for it that this won’t resurface as an idea once the MAT is formed?
David Sheppard is back!
David Sheppard, the Executive Headteacher in 2015 who tried and failed to privatise Prendergast, is named as one of the 9 Trustees of the new Charitable Incorporated Organisation related to the proposed MAT. This is the same David Sheppard who deliberately withheld and concealed key information during that consultation. That’s not just us saying that, this is what a first tier tribunal ruled: “48 i a) We are satisfied that further information was held that was in scope and was not disclosed to the Commissioner, this now forms part of the closed bundle”
For a project we are being asked to place a lot of TRUST in, is he really the right person to be making key decisions about your child’s future?
How local is local?
The Governing Board have made much of this being a ‘local’ MAT, in contrast to bigger chains. We have already explained that academies can be ‘rebrokered’ and small MATS swallowed by bigger ones but the minutes even raise a question about their definition of local.
The minutes showed that some of the first substantive discussions with a school about joining a future MAT, were not had with one of Prendergast’s feeder schools, or even a Lewisham school, but with a primary school in Southwark. They have also already recruited a senior education official in Lambeth borough to the CIO Board of Trustees, who will have extensive links in that borough too. It begs the question, how local is local?
A wonderful irony in all of this is that the Prendergast Governing Board have employed Communitas PR company in Brighton to help them sell the argument for privatisation (at a time when school budgets are squeezed, could this considerable sum of money not be spent on better things?!) Communitas developed ‘8 Truths’ to manage the message in consultation but this is the real truth and it doesn’t cost a penny.
An urgent message from the parent-led Protect Prendergast Campaign:
With just 2 days of the consultation left we’ve got a job for you…make your voice heard!
If you think the risks of LSFed becoming a MAT outweigh its proposed opportunities, submit text from the next slide into the consultation form to send the LSFed governing board a clear message:
“I stand by the brilliant learning support staff and teachers. I pledge my commitment to equality of opportunity for all. I demand a say in the future of our community of schools. I vote NO to LSFed Prendergast Schools MAT! For collaboration and governance: find another way. Lewisham Schools; Stronger Together!”
This campaign started with a petition demanding a vote on the proposed academisation of LSFed Prendergast schools. Over 1000 have signed so far! The board of governors are denying this democratic right. Make them listen!
Thank you for your support so far! Keep sharing, spread the word and make our voices heard! Thank you!
Submit your response to the consultation now and tell the governors we say #handsoffprendergast
Don’t Privatise Prendergast – join us on a March and Demonstration at 11am on Saturday 22nd April 2023.
Assemble at 11am at Loampit Vale next to Prendergast Vale, marching to Hillyfields via Prendergast Ladywell. Bring homemade placards and noisemakers, wear your Hulk costumes and practise your chanting.
Governors at Childeric Primary School, New Cross are exploring becoming an Academy as part of a Multi Academy Trust with three schools in Southwark. With no evidence to suggest academies improve educational attainment, plenty of horror stories of financial impropriety and worse conditions for staff, why would Childeric governors want to go ahead? Why would parents and the local community want to lose their say in how Childeric is run? Why would John Donne in Southwark want to take over a Lewisham primary? What’s in it for them?
Come and hear the case against academies. Once a school goes, there’s no going back so come and hear.
Tuesday 30 January 2018
7:00 PM – 8:30 PM GMT
New Cross Learning 283-285 New Cross Road SE14 6AS
Speakers include: Vicky Foxcroft MP and speakers from education unions and the local community