School drivers and teaching assistants co-ordinate strikes in Hackney

Hackney North members joined parents and schoolchildren, representatives from Hackney NEU, UNISON and UNITE to protest the...

A protest of the cuts in support staff at Colvestone Primary School on November 30 last year. - Credit: Colvestone parents

Teaching support and schoolbus staff in Hackney have co-ordinated a set of strikes over three days in two separate disputes. 

All ten of Unite's members at Dalston's Colvestone Primary School and Hoxton's Thomas Fairchild Community School, which together form the Soaring Skies Federation, had planned to strike over a restructuring which could see some employees made redundant.

Now, 32 drivers and passenger assistants who take disabled children to and from the Hackney schools have also voted to strike because Hackney Council will not pay them a one-off lump sum of £500 to recognise their work during the pandemic and over "other health and safety issues". 

Both strikes will take place from February 10 to 12. 

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “The failures of both sets of employers to engage in constructive talks with Unite has left our members with no option but to reluctantly take strike action over three days in February – hopefully, the dovetailing of these two disputes will concentrate minds."

However, its "door for meaningful talks remains open 24/7", he added. 

Hackney Council said its director of education has been holding weekly meetings with unions since March.

Hackney's cabinet member for families, early years and play, Cllr Caroline Woodley, said SEND transport workers have done a "brilliant job", while the council has given them twice-weekly lateral flow tests and is "pressing" for vaccinations, and is "disappointed" with the strike action.

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She said contracts at 20, 30 or 36 hours a week are "more generous than equivalent jobs in other local authorities".

"We are unable, under existing pay structures, to offer bonus payments, but do want to highlight the importance of frontline staff and hope that the government will recognise them in a meaningful way," she added.

"Locally, we do have to stick to our pay structure to maintain fairness across all our council staff. We have engaged with all the workers about any health and safety concerns and are not aware of any outstanding issues."

Caroline King, executive headteacher at Colvestone and Thomas Fairchild schools, said: “While we are sorry to have to reduce the number of support staff roles, we are committed to continuing to provide a high-quality education for our children. Our proposed new staffing model – due to be implemented from March 1, 2021 – will ensure that children continue to get the targeted support they need."

She blamed declining pupil numbers - by 25 per cent since 2018 - for the decision.