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'Enough is enough': Ilford County High School closed as teachers go on strike over budget cuts

PUBLISHED: 15:13 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:18 03 July 2019

Teachers and support staff at Ilford County High School went on strike citing budget cuts and

Teachers and support staff at Ilford County High School went on strike citing budget cuts and "intolerable workloads". Picture: Imogen Braddick

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Ilford County High School was forced to close today as teachers and support staff went on strike over budget cuts and "intolerable workloads".

Venda Premkumar, Redbridge NEU branch secretary. Picture: Imogen BraddickVenda Premkumar, Redbridge NEU branch secretary. Picture: Imogen Braddick

Teachers and support staff who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) voted in favour of action, forcing the school to close, and plan to strike again next Tuesday and Wednesday if a negotiated agreement is not reached with the school.

The union said the school in Fremantle Road, Barkingside, has been refusing to replace teachers and support staff when posts become vacant, and this has led to larger classes and intolerable workloads.

Venda Premkumar, Redbridge NEU branch secretary, said: "You can't keep cutting jobs and simply expect teachers and support staff to pick up the extra work, we are not prepared to see our members driven into the ground nor see the children's education suffer."

She added: "What's happening in our school is not unique, it's happening all over the country. There is no excuse for that - it's a very deliberate choice that the government is making not to fund education properly and we need to come together as a profession and say that it's not good enough."

Last year, Ilford County High School's spending on teaching and support staff dropped to its lowest level since 2013-14, according to figures from the Department for Education.

Teacher Roy Wills and Venda Premkumar, Redbridge NEU branch secretary. Picture: Imogen BraddickTeacher Roy Wills and Venda Premkumar, Redbridge NEU branch secretary. Picture: Imogen Braddick

Teacher Roy Wills told the Recorder: "Children's education is suffering in a really bad way - there's no way frontline services cannot be affected by continued cuts.

"There has to be a stop to it at some point. The latest way that the school has decided to save money is by restructuring the staff in a way which is unacceptable.

"We feel this is unreasonable and we are asking the school to reconsider the entire thing in a way that is reasonable for staff.

"There are many ways in which staff are suffering - we have already had an increase in timetable loading.

"We are prepared to go along with certain cuts and certain impositions to our working conditions, but we feel enough is enough."

Further action will follow if the employers don't meet the union members' concerns, the NEU said.

A letter sent to parents by headteacher Rebecca Drysdale said the majority of staff at the school belong to the NEU and therefore it would be "impossible to operate normally" during the strike action.

A joint statement from Mrs Drysdale and Redbridge Council said: "We have worked really hard to reach a negotiated agreement with the NEU including offering a number of concessions and compromises to meet their demands.

"Despite our willingness to continue with discussions, the NEU has announced it will take strike action.

"We deeply regret this decision which will disrupt the education of the children at the school.

"Our door remains open and we are ready and willing to continue talking to the NEU about their concerns so that we can avoid this unnecessary action."

Nigel May, joint president of Redbridge NEU and former Ilford County High School teacher of 25 years, said he felt spending on staff is being neglected in favour of other areas of expenditure.

He told the Recorder: "When you look at the deficit, it has not been created by teaching costs at all; it has been made by money spent on things that are not absolutely necessary to the children's education - things like bought-in professional services, things like site management costs, things like administrative supplies.

"The one main thing they need to do is withdraw the restructuring plan for heads of departments and heads of year."

According to figures from the Department for Education, spending on cleaning and caretaking increased from £491,573 in 2016-17 to £552,420 in 2017-18.

The amount spent on energy, water, insurance and catering almost doubled from £361,232 to £648,988 in the same period, and expenditure on supplies and services, such as administrative costs, increased from £790,291 to £903,105.

In 2016-17, staff spending totalled £3,807,337, compared to £3,711,542 in 2017-18.

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