Garstang teachers to strike in academy protest

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TEACHERS at Garstang High School will go on strike next week in protest at the possibility it could convert to an academy.

The two biggest teaching unions, the NASUWT and NUT, have balloted members over strike action at Garstang.

The move follows a decision to consult over a possible academy switch, which would see the school opt-out of local authority control.

As The Courier went to press, NASUWT staff at the school had backed a strike and will not be taking any lessons next Tuesday (April 5).

The NASUWT executive member for the Lancashire area, John Girdley, said there was a strong sense of resentment among staff, who fear academy status could threaten their job security.

He said: “We want to send a message to the governors how strongly staff feel.

“Of course, we don’t want to interrupt pupils’ learning, but our overriding concern is we don’t want an academy.”

He added further strike action was a possibility after Easter if the plans were not reconsidered.

The result of the NUT ballot is expected tomorrow, Wednesday, raising the possibility that its members may also be on strike next Tuesday – which would force the school to shut completely – or could strike on another day, causing further disruption.

Management at Garstang High say that if only NASUWT members are out next Tuesday, they would have enough staff to be able to cover lessons for Year 11 students working towards their GCSEs, but all other pupils would be having an unscheduled day off.

This week, chair of governors Tom Ibison accused the unions of “holding a shotgun to our heads”, claiming the NASUWT had told them to stop the consultation process or face strike action.

Headteacher Phil Birch said he was ‘very disappointed’ the unions had gone to strike action as a first resort, instead of a last resort.

Mr Birch said: “We are still consulting, nothing has been decided, but they have chosen to take this course of action now.

“I think many parents and members of the public would support teachers’ right to strike, but this looks like a pre-emptive strike by the unions when we’re still at a very early stage.

“There were other options open to them that wouldn’t be so disruptive but they have chosen to go for a full day’s strike, and, ultimately, it’s the children who get caught in the crossfire.’’

Mr Ibison added: “All we are doing is looking at the academy option.

“We are trying to do what is right to protect this school for the community of Garstang.’’

Teaching unions are opposed to academies, claiming they create a ‘two-tier education system and place too much power in the hands of governors and headteachers, who would take over managing budgets – including teachers’ pay – and setting the curriculum.

But Mr Birch says that at Garstang, they have already pledged to retain all teachers’ existing terms and conditions and he said “the community would hold the school to account’’ if they went back on their word.

Speaking to the Courier, Garstang MP Ben Wallace said he had kept in touch with Mr Birch over academy developments.

He said: “If the head, who has improved the school massively, in conjunction with the governors, think it is right thing to do in going for an academy, he certainly has my support.”

An internet blog, Garstang Academy Forum, has been set up by a parent of a pupil at the school to discuss the ‘pros and cons’ of the academy idea.

One comment from someone who claims to work at the school says “many members of staff are angry and frightened by this proposal’’.

Another posting from a parent of three primary school children says, “I am very, very concerned about the impact academy status will have on the local community of Garstang.’’

In a letter to The Courier this week, High School staff members claim, “If Garstang High School becomes an academy it will have been stolen from the community of Garstang.’’

Garstang is one of the first schools in the area considering an academy switch to be affected by strike action.

However, it is understood that strike ballots are taking place at several other Lancashire schools also looking at the move.