A long-running dispute between staff and management at a special school in Hackney has been resolved but not without further criticism of how the school is run.
Members of the National Education Union (NEU) at Leaways ended their 22-day strike action to defend students’ conditions and the rights of workers to organise after coming to an agreement with the Kedleston Group, a private company that runs the school.
The agreement included an increase in the number of paid sick days from seven to 10 days per year and the introduction of a pay progression policy to provide teachers with career and pay development.
The Kedleston Group also agreed to recognise the union and to reinstate an NEU rep for the school.
The NEU had called for pay scales at the school, which teaches children with autism and other special needs, to mirror those of national state schools for both teachers and support staff.
Strike action over the dispute began in December 2020 and was resolved this month.
In a statement published on May 17, The Keddleston group said: “Kedleston Group and the National Education Union are pleased to announce that the industrial dispute at Leaways School has been resolved. The school has voluntarily agreed to recognise the NEU and Iain Forsyth, a NEU representative for Leaways School, has been reinstated following due process under the school’s internal procedures.
“Both parties are confident they can work together to meet the needs of all the school community.”
Whilst these staff demands have been met, parents’ anxieties surrounding their children’s specific needs still remain a concern.
In a report by the BBC this week, a parent of a student with autism said that she fears for her sons’ mental state if he stays at Leaways school.
Donna Thompson, who originally fought for her 10-year-old son to get into the school told the BBC: “I was sold a dream. They actually have no idea… I feel like if my son stays there any longer, it will be detrimental to his mental state.”
Being there makes him anxious, often he becomes mute, not speaking all day, or isolating himself for hours in the school’s sensory room.”
She also says that Javon’s Educational and Health Care Plan (EHCP) – a document that sets out a child’s special educational needs and the support required – was not reviewed for almost two years.
Legally, these documents must be reviewed annually.
A spokesperson for the school said: “The school was aware action was needed to address the refreshing of EHCPs and before it could be fully addressed, the issue was further exacerbated by the onset of COVID-19.
“The responsibility for ensuring EHCP reviews take place lies with the placing local authorities, but we acknowledge the school should also be proactive in seeking to ensure meetings take place.”
Leaways school also appointed a new Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) in June 2020.
Iain Forsyth, NEU rep, at a demonstration back in March said: “No student at this school should suffer, an inadequate education due to circumstance and a company putting profit before its pupils.”
The Private Education Policy Forum thinktank told East London Lines: “The accusations levelled at Leaways School are extremely alarming and may point to a systemic issue within private for-profit SEND education more generally.
“While the simple distinction of state or private sector is by no means indicative of the quality of teaching or pupil welfare at a school, the profit incentive present in many private SEND schools can be an unhelpful one particularly when pupils with additional needs are involved, as ensuring their welfare may not correlate with profit margins.”
The think tank that looks at private schools and education also said: “Data from 2017 showed that local councils were sending triple the number of SEND pupils to private schools compared to six years previously due to a lack of funds for state places. Instead of relying on the private sector to fill the gaps, the Department for Education should be allocating sufficient resources to ensure every SEND child can be very well catered for within the state system.”
A spokesperson for Leaways school said: “We strongly refute the suggestion profit is ever put ahead of the needs of children…The organisation re-invests all surplus monies in enhancing its provisions.”
“The vast majority of families are happy with our school and they see their children doing very well here.”
Ofsted rated the school as ‘Good’ in March 2021 and stated that children are “well supervised” and that staff supervision is “proportionate and appropriate”.
The school says it was “deeply saddened to hear the opinions of a small minority.”