Parents gather to protest Hackney schools’ support staff cuts

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

Hackney North members joined parents and schoolchildren, representatives from Hackney NEU, UNISON and UNITE to protest the cuts in support staff at Colvestone Primary School on November 30. - Credit: Colvestone parents

Plans to halve teaching support staff have sparked protests at the school gates in Hackney.

Activists met parents with placards and banners trying to raise awareness of the cuts as children were collected from Thomas Fairchild School on November 27 and Colvestone Primary School on November 30.

READ MORE: Hackney teachers protest ‘dangerous’ early reopening of schoolsThe Soaring Skies Federation intends to cut 31 support staff, downgrade other jobs, slash hours and therefore decrease wages.

Hackney Unison chair Brian Debus said: “Obviously the impact on the kids is going to be dire if you halve the staff.”

He told the Gazette that national cutbacks were fundamentally at fault, but noted that the school could have made better use of its resources, and believes it should consider running a deficit budget to save jobs.

Bibi Alaa Danesh, a parent, said: “I got upset because I’ve got a son who needs a special teacher.

“There are so many there that need help with the special teachers.”

She said she would support teachers if they chose to strike.

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Another parent, Carmen Vi, was unsure how the cuts would effect the quality of education.

She said: “From what I see, I know our school had a higher amount of support staff than other schools and my children were okay, so I can’t really comment until the changes do happen.”

However, she supported the unions’ efforts to save staff, adding: “By all means, go for it. If you have a chance to change it and stop it from happening then of course I support that.”

The protest was the launch of a sustained campaign from four trade unions - Unison, Unite, the National Education Union (NEU) and GMB - but Unison represents the largest number of affected staff.

Marvin Hay, one of the organisers, pointed to similar restructuring at other schools around the borough and noted that support staff were often the first to be targeted.

He said: “What we are not seeing is executive heads being cut, we’re not seeing senior leadership being cuts, instead we’re seeing some of the lowest paid staff.

“When you take a teaching assistant out of class, you make the workload harder, not just for the teacher, but for the other pupils.”

Jane Bassett, membership secretary at Hackney NEU, said: “The writing is on the wall for all workers in schools and support workers are on the sharp end of that because they think they are expendable.”

On Friday, the unions served a formal notice of a dispute on Hackney Council, meaning they will be formally balloting members for strike action.

If the formal ballot is affirmative, the unions will serve notice on the employer, which could mean a full teacher’s strike at the school in January.

Mohammed Islam, who has an autistic daughter at the school, said he would support a strike and would consider switching schools if the cuts went ahead.

He said: “She needs her own assistant, if they cut the assistant, then maybe I’m going to change the school.”

Caroline King, executive headteacher at Colvestone and Thomas Fairchild schools, said: “The decision was reached due to a falling pupil roll over recent years and the subsequent drop in funding from the government.

“Regrettably, the governing body have had to make this decision during current times, but can confirm that the decision is not as a result of Covid-19.

“Management are currently in consultation with staff and unions regarding this matter.”