School disputes union's strike success claims

Picketers outside Oaks Park High School in Newbury Park

Picketers outside Oaks Park High School in Newbury Park - Credit: Daniel Gayne

Strikers at Oaks Park High School completed their sixth day of action yesterday as a dispute over alleged staff victimisation rolls on. 

Picketers gathered outside the Newbury Park school on Thursday morning (July 1). 

As reported by the Recorder on June 2, the dispute centres around the alleged treatment of staff who asked to work offsite during the second wave of Covid-19. 

In January, workers at the school made requests under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act, which protects employees from punishment should they refuse to work in unsafe circumstances. 

National Education Union (NEU) regional officer, Glenn Kelly, alleged that six workers at the school had been “victimised” as a result of having used section 44, including four newly qualified teachers (NQTs), one teaching assistant, and an additional member of staff. 

He claimed that the industrial action had already achieved some success – winning jobs for two of the four NQTs and resolving a dispute relating to the teaching assistant – and promised further action. 

However, the school and Redbridge Council dispute this, claiming that the NEU’s purported wins were unrelated to the strike action and insisting that the school’s actions had not been motivated by section 44 submissions. 

They said in a statement: “The school and the local authority regret that the dispute remains unresolved and we do not share the view that the recent industrial action has brought about developments.” 

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Mr Kelly alleged that the four NQTs had not been given jobs at the school after completing their probation, and believed that the quartet had been “deliberately targeted” due to their use of section 44.  

Of those four, Mr Kelly claimed that two have now found employment elsewhere and the other two have received new jobs at the school as a result of the strike. 

The school, however, disputes this, claiming that the staff had in fact been offered permanent posts for September before the dispute had begun and that their appointment was unrelated to the industrial action. 

In addition to the four NQTs, Mr Kelly claimed that the action had achieved gains for a pregnant teaching assistant at the school. 

He claimed that the teaching assistant, who was on a fixed term contract, had been told that her contract would not be renewed in September and that, despite there being positions available, she should not re-apply as she would be on maternity leave. 

According to Mr Kelly, the strike action has led the school to offer her maternity pay and the opportunity to reapply for the job in September. 

The council disputes both of these claims and said that steps taken to support the staff member were not related to the recent industrial action, but part of normal school procedures. 

They additionally claim that the individual concerned had advised the school before the dispute began that she did not intend to return, and that this had been communicated to the NEU. 

On Monday evening, the union will protest outside Redbridge Town Hall, and Mr Kelly said that more strike action was likely when school returns in September as they fight for the reinstatement of an additional member of staff who he said was dismissed from their role. 

He said that the union could also take the council and the school to court on the grounds of unfair dismissal. 

“The council, rather than acting as some neutral arbiter, rather than saying ‘look can we bring both sides in to discuss it’, immediately have taken the side of the school, never had discussion with the union,” alleged Mr Kelly. 

The local authority said that in all cases, they had reviewed evidence from both the school and the NEU and judged that the school’s actions had not been motivated by the submission of section 44 letters.