by Mark Radcliffe
I confess I was astonished to read the email sent by the school’s management team to all parents, deriding and attempting to marginalize the NUT strike action next Weds, 16th of July, over proposed academisation. Astonished and deeply disappointed.
If anyone needed an example of how a school’s leadership team can alienate its community and workforce, here it is. It is increasingly clear that the deep concerns, anxieties and principles of others have no place in the poorly articulated and expedient drive to deregulate the school. I can only guess at the motivation behind this, it hasn’t been well expressed, nobody has answered the simple and recurrent question: If the school is doing well why change?
But there is more than political differences being played out here. On the one hand we are invited to acknowledge and celebrate the school’s improvement and have heard repeatedly from the headmaster that the teachers have been at the heart of that. Yet now we are asked to disregard their concerns, their insight and their professional beliefs by an increasingly isolated leadership team. Why would we do that?
I work in the public services and I know how difficult the decision to strike can be. I think at the very least there are three things teachers have to consider. Bottom of the list is themselves, they lose pay but sometimes having principles costs money, it is not ideal but I suspect it is the least of their concerns.
Secondly they run the risk of causing disruption beyond the school. Most parents work and rely on schools for child care as well as education. This amounts to a leap of faith I suspect. We are all capable of being irritated by other people’s beliefs, particularly when they tangibly enter our lives, so it becomes an invitation to either understand that striking means something important is happening or to imagine that teachers are the enemy of good. I think reason dictates that something important is happening here.
The third and most important is the education of students. It is telling that teachers have chosen the penultimate full day of the school year to take action. Nobody can accuse them of being self-serving here, certainly not of seeking to cause the maximum disruption. If they had wanted to have the maximum impact they would have chosen a day that would have caused genuine educational disruption, an exams day, an admissions day, any day where a full curriculum might be running. They haven’t. They are making a point, protecting their students best interests without impacting on their immediate needs and losing money in the process.
A good leadership team would respect that for two reasons. Firstly because they know the staff – having a near 80% ballot in favour of strike action – could have been so much more aggressive but chose not to be for the sake of the students. Secondly because when this is over and the school recovers from this woefully ill-considered business-minded distraction and gets back to focusing on education it will need mutual respect, trust, and an ability to work together.
A good leadership team knows that when conflict arises. It keeps an eye on the future and the need to work together. It does not wilfully further alienate the teachers and parents with emails like the one I received this week.