Our education correspondent, GENE BRODIE, reports from the picket line at Croydon High, where dozens of teachers fear that they will lose their jobs in a dispute with what some have called a ‘petty and vindictive’ schools trust
Croydon High School, the independent school for girls aged from three to 18, saw its first strike in its 149-year history yesterday.
GDST, the Girls Day School Trust that operates the Selsdon school and 22 others around the country, has told its teachers that they will be sacked in the summer if they don’t accept their current terms of employment being ripped up and their pension provision scrapped.
The dismissals – affecting potentially hundreds of members of staff across all the GDST schools – would take place in the summer holidays just as GCSE and A-level students seek support on grade result appeals.
Teachers face a “fire and rehire” raid by the Trust in the same way that Tesco, British Airways, British Gas and bus company Go North West controversially undermined their staff’s hard-earned terms and conditions.
More than 50 Croydon High teachers are understood to have taken part in the one-day strike. Across the country, according to estimates from the National Education Union, thousands more were also taking action.
On the morning of the strike, parents and drivers hooted their approval. Teachers sounded horns, blasted out music and reached out to the public along the road. No parental opposition was seen.
Similar scenes were witnessed at nearby GDST schools such as Sutton High and at Streatham High and Clapham Common, where Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy joined striking teachers on the picket line on Abbotswood Road. “Threatening teachers with job losses if they don’t accept big cuts to their pensions is no way to thank them for their hard work during the pandemic,” the Streatham MP tweeted.
Yesterday’s was the first of six days of strikes planned through until March.
The industrial action has also attracted the public support of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, although a notable absentee from the Croydon High picket line yesterday was Hamida Ali, the Labour-run council’s leader and a former pupil of the £18,000 per year fee-paying school.
Outside the school, one teacher told Inside Croydon: “It is great to have so much support from parents and sixth form students today. They know what it is that makes Croydon High School so amazing!”
One melancholy parent said this was, “the Trust’s Tebbitt ‘get on your bike’ moment for the teachers”.
“If the Trust treats our teachers like this, how are they going to treat my daughter?” one concerned parent asked.
There were unusual contrasts of emotions and scenes.
One long-standing member of CHS’s teaching staff could hardly hold back the tears at the prospect of the indignity of the hire and refire after so many years of service. “Even Boris Johnson says fire and rehire is unacceptable,” she said.
Mixed among the placard-waving teachers were veterans of past industrial conflicts from the Croydon Trades Council and campaign officers from the London office of the National Education Union.
Whitgift School’s trade union rep (yes, even they have one) was there in support.
Parents and pupils arriving on public transport seemed a bit non-plussed exchanging the usual good morning greetings with their class teachers out in the street.
Trade unionists were encouraged as they handed out leaflets into the opened windows of a steady stream of £80,000 Range Rovers and other prestige vehicles.
The teachers wished to remain anonymous in their comments, for fear of any recriminations over their part in the industrial action.
One said that she had moved into the private sector encouraged by Croydon High’s links to the suffragette movement. “We teach young women that it is right to stand up for equal treatment and for what is right. We are here today to assert our right to do the same for ourselves.
“Founded by the formidable suffragette Dorinda Nelligan, it is only right we stand up for our pensions. It is only right we model peaceful protest to our fabulous students. It is only right we stand up. Working conditions are learning conditions.”
Some of the older teachers feel worn down by the situation and said they may leave and retire early.
One mid-career teacher said she could not afford the financial loss and would be looking for employment elsewhere. “The threat of fire and rehire, and the fact that the pension changes hit middle-aged women more than other groups, has definitely led to a lack of faith and belief in the ‘Trust’,” she said. This teacher estimates that the pension changes will see her lose around £9,000 a year.
Several teachers said that they resented the poor calibre presentation they received from the Trust on the pensions axe. “They just came with a few A3 sheets. They treated us like children.” And to be fair, teachers are probably expert on that judgement.
Teachers with children at the schools normally get a discount on the fees to be paid. The GDST decided to charge the teachers at the 100per cent fees rate on the day of the strike. This was seen as “petty, vindictive and likely to cost more to collect than is made from the extra charge”.
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