View from the street: Teacher strike over cuts plan

George Binette explains why NEU members in Tower Hamlets are striking on December 9.

George Binette explains why NEU members in Tower Hamlets are striking on December 9. - Credit: Archant

On Wednesday, December 9, some 25 National Education Union (NEU) members in Tower Hamlets will be striking after voting 24 to one in favour of industrial action in an official ballot on a 92.6 per cent turnout.

So why are these NEU members – highly qualified and committed specialist teachers – taking action against a Labour-controlled council?

The teachers work in the Support for Learning Service (SLS) and are mounting a determined campaign against what the NEU says is a £650,000 (47pc) cut to the SLS.

The service, established in the 1990s, provides valuable support to children and young people from birth to age 25 with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The SLS continued operating during the first lockdown and earned praise in a local survey. Now staff face compulsory redundancies, deskilling and worse contracts, but more importantly, the NEU says the current proposals threaten the life chances of hundreds and hundreds of young people including Hackney residents enrolled in Tower Hamlets schools.

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But why is Tower Hamlets, previously a leader in providing inclusive education, pursuing such cuts? The Covid pandemic is not the main driver.

There is a national funding crisis for SEND provision with an estimated £1.6 billion shortfall by 2021/22, according to research by the Local Government Association. The situation is especially acute in Tower Hamlets with its high levels of need.

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The NEU argues that the cuts will prove penny wise and pound foolish, undermining both educational and employment opportunities and the council’s ability to meet statutory obligations.

The union’s campaign relies on more than industrial action, with a Zoom meeting attracting 120 participants last month with powerful contributions from ex-pupils and Hackney-based deaf poet Raymond Antrobus, while an online petition has garnered over 1,400 signatures.

Tower Hamlets must ditch these proposals if the council is serious in its commitment to supporting vulnerable children and young people. Sign the petition

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