Teachers at the STEM 6 Academy – an Islington ‘free’ school that opened in City Road last September for 16-18-year-olds – will be voting over the next fortnight on whether they are prepared to take strike action to persuade the Academy to recognise their trade union, the National Union of Teachers.
This action, if members vote for it, has become necessary because of the cheapskate and unacceptable contractual terms and conditions which the Academy’s management is attempting to impose on its staff who were threatened with “legal consequences” if they refused individually to agree to them shortly before the Xmas holiday and the Academy’s refusal to meet with union representatives in order to negotiate improvements which would bring them in to line with terms and conditions enjoyed by teachers in most other state-funded schools in Islington and elsewhere.
Aspects of the imposed contract – which NUT members only signed under duress – include a paragraph entitled ‘Layoff’ which states: “The school reserves the right to temporarily lay you off from work without normal contractual pay or to reduce your normal working hours and reduce your pay proportionately. The school will give you as much notice as it can reasonably give of its need to take such action” –
In other words, pretty much a zero-hours contract with:
- an annual entitlement of only three weeks paid sick leave,
- pay rises entirely at the discretion of management with no incremental progression, and
- statutory minimum maternity leave provision, far inferior to the entitlement of most other Islington teachers employed by the local authority.
These deplorable terms and conditions not only show callous disregard for staff at STEM 6, they also demonstrate scant respect for students at the Academy – or their parents. Aren’t STEM 6 students entitled to be taught by decently-treated, properly paid teachers who feel secure and valued in their jobs? Or are they are only entitled to education on the cheap?
These are questions which STEM 6 students and parents might want to ask the Academy principal, John O’Shea and its chair of governors, Tony Sewell among whose admirers are Islington resident and local Mayor, Boris Johnson, who appointed him last year to chair his Education Enquiry in to how to improve the quality of London schools. (Presumably Mr Sewell thinks this can be done by exploiting and mistreating its teachers.)
Another question that Mr O’Shea could be asked is: how does he justify including Paragraph 11.1 in the STEM 6 contract of employment? Under the heading ‘Outside Interests’, it states:
Save with the prior written permission of the Deputy Principal, you must not during your employment be involved in any other work, occupation or activity whether paid or unpaid which in view of the School affects your ability to devote the whole of your time and attention during working hours to the School’s business or conflicts with the interests or causes damage to the goodwill of the School. … Failure to do so will be regarded as a disciplinary matter by the School and dealt with accordingly.
This is a serious case of double standards, surely, because – as Islington NUT Assistant Secretary, Ken Muller, was reported as complaining in the Islington Tribune on 15 March last year:
“The role of John O’Shea is extremely dubious, given that he is currently the director of the existing consortium of four Islington school sixth-forms. Doesn’t he have a conflict of interests?”
He added: “One governor at Highbury Grove School had complained at a very poorly attended consultation meeting held by STEM on Tuesday that he had only been informed of the project the day before – when John O’Shea is meant to be running the Highbury Grove sixth-form.
So what is good for the STEM 6 Principal is clearly not good enough for the Academy’s staff!
Unfortunately, because – unlike Islington’s community schools – STEM 6, as a “free” school, is not accountable in any way to local people through their elected borough councillors. Run by a private “not-for-profit” company based in Wembley (the Skills Development Agency) it answerable only to its directors and ultimately to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education. Maybe he has got some questions to answer too.
Ken Muller, Assistant Secretary of Islington NUT, said:
Teachers at STEM 6, if they vote to strike, are not just standing up for their own right to be treated decently by their employer. They are also asserting that their students are entitled to be taught by properly remunerated teachers who feel valued and secure in their jobs. They are not looking for a fight over these issues. They would rather be able to get on with teaching and supporting their students and helping them to fulfil their ambitions. But if STEM 6 management – and those standing behind them – continue to dismiss their concerns and to refuse to meet with their union representatives, then STEM 6 teachers have assured us that they are willing to take industrial action to support their case. If it comes to this, they will have the full backing of the NUT and – I expect – students, parents and other workers, sick of getting their livelihoods trashed at a time when MPs are in line for an 11 per cent pay increase and top bankers just down the road the road from STEM 6 saw their average pay and bonuses rise 35 per cent to £1.6 million last year.
For more information, call Ken Muller on 07950 075 088 0r 020 8806 7717.