Hackney school staff strike over management complaints

School picket outside Leaways School in Hackney.

NEU school staff and their supporters stage a school picket outside Leaways Special School operated by private, for-profit Kedleston Group, on March 30. - Credit: Amanda Bentham

Staff have been striking at an independent special needs school in Hackney following concerns raised about senior managers and "appalling conditions".

National Education Union (NEU) members at Leaways School in Theydon Road, Clapton, say they have been in dispute with its management, Kedleston Group, over a number of issues since December last year. 

In a statement from staff, they allege poor education provision for students, "appalling" conditions in the school building, a lack of "decent" sick pay and a refusal to recognise trade unions or award the 2.75 per cent pay increase given to most education workers last year. 

Despite the ongoing dispute, a spokesperson for Kedleston Group maintained: "Our door remains firmly open for further talks."

Dave Davies, Hackney NEU District Secretary, said prior to organised strike actions on March 17, 18 and 22-31: “We are appalled at the unjust and bullying way disciplinary measures have been utilized by management at Leaways.

"We call upon the Kedleston group to withdraw these unfair processes, reinstate our members and renegotiate the disciplinary policy in line with ACAS guidance."

"NEU members are being forced to take industrial action to protect themselves and their union representatives. We are keen to resolve this matter and have reached out to Kedleston and are still awaiting a response.”

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NEU staff are concerned that the provision students at Leaways receive do not reflect the £50,000 allocated for each pupil, which they say is double the amount received per student in state special needs schools. 

Strike at Leaways School in Hackney.

The strike action has been supported Hackney's Labour party. - Credit: Amanda Bentham

However, a spokesperson for Kedleston says the school has invested "significantly" in school provisions as well as offering higher staffing ratios, with Ofsted rating it good in its most recent inspection.

NEU staff also claim children have no outside recreation area and the temperature of the building during winter has been so cold, that staff and students frequently wear coats inside.

But the school's management has said that damaged heaters were the cause of the cold, which have now been fixed and new windows will be installed to improve heating in the building. 

It adds that despite a lack of "extensive outdoor space" the school makes use of nearby outdoor facilities.

Meanwhile, staff stated "extreme concerns" at the actions of senior school managers, with two members of staff having been dismissed since the start of the dispute, one a NEU representative. 

In response, a spokesperson for Kedleston Group refuted claims that any staff were "bullied, disciplined, dismissed or threatened with dismissal as a consequence of being involved in the strike action, or being a union member". 

A spokesperson said: "A recent disciplinary decision has been subject to scrutiny by an interim employment tribunal which found the school had acted properly."

They added that the staff on strike were "in a minority" and expressed concern at the negative impact the strikes were having on students.

Protest signs at Leaways School.

Keddleston Group runs the school and disputes allegations made by NEU staff, of bullying and intimidation. - Credit: Amanda Bentham

The spokesperson told the Gazette the strike action had been "extremely noise, aggressive and intimidating", adding: "The use of loud-hailers and amplifiers to play loud music is not appropriate, particularly when used directly outside the classrooms of children with an autistic spectrum condition, many of whom have acute sensory needs.

"We urge those on strike, and those supporting them, to moderate their behaviour and be particularly mindful of the special needs of our pupils."

The school says it has worked "very hard" to find a resolution including an Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) process, but that the union "walked away" from the proceedings. 

The Keddleston spokesperson said: "We have already addressed the majority of the union’s demands and find it difficult to understand why there is an unwillingness to reach agreement and close this dispute off, or even to engage meaningfully with us."

A protest sign reads: "Pupils not Profit".

The strikes this month follow ongoing disputes over pay, pupil provision and pay at the school. - Credit: Amanda Bentham

The spokesperson said staff were awarded an above inflation pay increase in September, that the school formally recognises the union and has improved sick pay policy since December, which exceeds statutory minimums.

Some of the strike actions mentioned in the article were postponed and took place a week later than stated.