'I'd rather be teaching' - Sick pay strike continues at high school

Beal High School Redbridge April 28 2021

Teachers and support staff continue to strike at Beal High School over an ongoing dispute about sickness pay. - Credit: Cash Boyle

Teachers and support workers at Beal High School have taken to the picket line for a second time as a dispute about sickness pay rumbles on. 

This round of industrial action - scheduled for yesterday and today (April 28 and 29) - follows a first strike on March 25 which did not lead to a breakthrough between the parties.

The dispute centres around a claim - made by the National Education Union (NEU) - that staff employed by the Redbridge school after 2016 are not entitled to a nationally-agreed sick pay scheme.

This was denied by the school on March 17, following the union's announcement that its members had voted in favour of six days of strike action.

Beal High School Redbridge April 28 2021

A meeting between the school and the National Education Union (NEU) is due to take place on Friday (April 30). - Credit: Cash Boyle

The Beacon Academy Trust - which runs the school - has insisted that there is one sickness pay policy for all staff.

Yesterday, the Recorder spoke to the school's co-NEU representatives, Sajia Iqbal and Sylvain Savier.

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From a chilly picket line, law and history teacher Ms Iqbal said: “Unfortunately, this is our second round of strike action. We haven’t taken it lightly. We understand that our children’s education is paramount.

"I would rather be teaching today. Students obviously have exams; we are teachers, we are educators, we are teaching our youth about equality. I’m a law teacher and I’m teaching about the Equality Act 2010.

Beal High School Redbridge April 28 2021

Staff at Beal High have been on the picket line during the second round of strike action over sickness pay. - Credit: Cash Boyle

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"Yet, our management has decided not to implement and embed those practices for our colleagues so we are all treated with fairness.” 

The aim is to ensure every member of staff is "given the same rights – the same contractual rights for sick pay," she added.

Ms Iqbal's co-rep Mr Savier - a languages teacher - is dismayed at how this issue has rumbled on without resolution.

"They have pushed back a first offer to meet until Friday – after the second round. It just shows that maybe they haven’t put the priority where it’s needed."

NEU regional officer Glenn Kelly also questioned the timing of this meeting. Whilst the union "welcomes" the willingness to meet, he believes it's "odd" to call for talks after a second set of strikes.

Beal High School Redbridge April 28 2021

The NEU held a virtual meeting with parents on Wednesday night (April 28) which was attended by more than 70 parents. - Credit: Cash Boyle

Kathryn Burns, Beacon Academy Trust CEO and executive principal at the school, said: "A meeting will take place on April 30. NEU were asked to postpone the strike action planned for today and tomorrow in the light of the meeting being arranged but declined to do so.

"The date of the meeting was determined by lack of clarity on the nature of the dispute and trustee availability."

While the key aim of this action is to change the sickness pay policy, both Ms Iqbal and Mr Savier - alongside Redbridge NEU joint secretary Venda Premkumar - raised another issue. 

Redbridge Beal High School

Co-NEU rep at Beal High School, Sajia Iqbal, spoke about the issues driving this industrial action. - Credit: Cash Boyle

Ms Iqbal alleged that staff who are unwell have been subject to "capability procedures", meaning that questions are asked of their ability to teach. 

The law teacher claimed "colleagues have been penalised, punished for being unwell".

Ms Premkumar also made reference to this alleged practice: “We’ve got to be very clear. You have every right not to be seen as an inconvenience when you become ill.” 

Ms Burns issued a categorical denial to this allegation: "The trust takes staff welfare extremely seriously. It adopts a compassionate approach to supporting staff sickness absence and its current policies were approved by recognised unions (including the NEU) following full consultation. 

"The trust does not recognise the picture of its approach to HR matters which is being painted/endorsed by current NEU officials. The allegation that ill staff are automatically subject to assessments of capability is not true."

Beal High School Redbridge April 28 2021

Maths teacher Preeyesh Bhadresha - pictured on the left - said it's important to fight for a change in policy for both present and future teachers at the school. - Credit: Cash Boyle

Preeyesh Bhadresha - named STEM Teacher of the Year for Redbridge and Newham at the London Teacher of the Year awards - feels it's important to "fight for what's right for both present and future teachers".

A former student at the school, he admitted his involvement has also been driven by a "sense of sentiment".

The NEU met with parents last night, Mr Kelly confirmed, adding that the 70-plus in attendance were "shocked to find out what was happening".

Resolution talks are set to take place tomorrow.

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