Members of the National Union of Teachers have voted for strike action in two Lewisham schools, ELL learned this week.
Teaching members from Deptford Green and Addey & Stanhope schools called strike action in a preliminary ballot following anger over plans for the schools to form an educational trust with nearby Goldsmiths college.
Governors from the two schools and Crossways Sixth Form believe joining in a trust with the college, part of the University of London, would provide children in the area with access to the highest quality education. But teachers say it amounts to changing their condition of employment.
Lewisham NUT secretary Martin Powell-Davies said: “We’re preparing to go ahead and it’s really just a question of deciding what the best timing for any formal strike ballot would be.”
Teachers’ union NASUWT has not yet balloted on strike action, but Kathy Duggan, secretary of the union’s Lewisham branch, said: “We will strike, if needs be.”
The three schools implicated already form a federation whereby they share expertise, hold joint teacher training days, develop new courses in partnership and agree exam targets.
The proposed trust would partner the schools with both Goldsmiths College and an external body. The schools would remain under local authority control but have the power to appoint governors, set admission arrangements and employ staff.
Views on the feasibility of the trust are split. Goldsmiths Council, the highest decision-making body of the College, declined for the second time to fully endorse the trust partnership at their meeting on 1 December. They will not discuss the matter again until next spring.
A statement from members of the Department of Educational Studies at Goldsmiths expressed concern over the potential damage the proposed trust could inflict on existing relationships with local schools.
“We really value our already strong partnership with local schools and colleges. Our concern is that, given Goldsmiths is the leading partner in the proposed Trust Federation, these proposals could actually damage these relationships,” members said.
Other campaigners have argued the formation of trusts makes schools competitive and encourages fragmentation and division. They believe it also makes schools less accountable to parents.
Advocates emphasize the potential of trusts to raise standards by harnessing the skills and knowledge of other schools, businesses and higher education institutes, as well as expanding the choice of local schools for parents.
Other individuals however, such as Lesley Davis, Director of Community Enrichment at Crossways Sixth Form, believe the schools need more time to consider the proposal.
“We’re currently looking at the pros and cons of the Trust. All staff can see that there are advantages and disadvantages. It’s just a matter of weighing them up.
“I don’t think staff are reluctant to be part of a Trust. I think that before the final decision is made they’d like to be well informed,” she said.
The preliminary consultation into the proposal was completed in September. Governors have now decided to move to the next stage in the process – a statutory consultation.
Martin Powell-Davies said: “We’re still waiting to clarify from the governors and from Goldsmiths council whether they are determined to proceed. We hope that the indicative ballot result will be one more reason to persuade them not to go ahead. But if the governors do decide to go ahead then we’ll certainly be balloting for strike action.”