Further strikes at Wembley school set to become academy

A North London primary school is set to close for a further two days next week after staff agreed to take strike action against government plans to turn it into an academy.

The decision came after the school was rated “inadequate” by the education watchdog, but staff, parents, and local politicians are fighting against what they feel is a ‘draconian’ measure.

A recent Ofsted report highlighted a “marked deterioration” at Byron Court in Wembley after its rating plummeted from “outstanding” in 2012 to “inadequate” following inspections on November 28 and 29 last year.

This triggered an automatic response from the Department for Education (DfE), with the school forced to come under the control of an academy, Harris Trust, to address the issues.

After a number of protests staged outside the school – attended by staff, parents, pupils, and politicians – staff who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) have now opted to strike in an effort to halt the process, which could be implemented as early as September of this year.

Having already picketed outside the school last week and on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the union has announced a further two days of strikes – meaning the school will be forced to close on those days.

The strikes will take place on June 4 and June 6.

further strikes at wembley school set to become academy

Placards for Byron Court Academisation Protest (LDRS)

A statement from the NEU called the Ofsted inspection “intimidating” and claimed staff had been left “fearing for their mental health and their futures”.

It added: “Many of these long-serving staff served the school’s community throughout the pandemic and face uncertainty in their jobs, pay and conditions as they face a takeover by the hostile Harris multi-academy trust.”

Brent Secretary at the NEU, Jenny Cooper, said: “We will not be stopping this fight any time soon as there is too much at stake here and we know we have the support of the community.

“Gillian Keegan (MP and Secretary of State for Education) knows what she can do: commission a reinspection and pause the academy order; this could resolve our dispute.”

The strike action is likely to cause significant disruption to pupils and parents, especially as it coincides with SAT exams for those in Year 6.

further strikes at wembley school set to become academy

Byron Court Primary School (Grant Williams)

The NEU have noted that it is aimed specifically at the DfE and not Brent Council – which has publicly backed calls for the academisation process to stop and the school to be reinspected after it put ‘extensive support’ in place to ensure the issues had been addressed.

The Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, Cllr Gwen Grahl, called the DfE decision “draconian” and has written to the department and the Secretary of State to oppose the plan.

Cllr Grahl told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “Allowing the school longer to effect improvements and giving Byron Court the opportunity for re-inspection prior to proceeding with academisation proposals is likely to resolve the current industrial dispute and provide reassurance to families and school staff during a tumultuous period for all.”

She added: “Byron Court is a much-loved community school and academisation remains deeply unpopular among families and staff. The local authority has quickly put extensive recourse to forced academisation.

“It is clear that legislation surrounding forced academisation is disenfranchising communities and removing the valuable oversight of local authorities.”

All parties are continuing to lobby Ms Keegan to get the academy order revoked, whilst Cllr Grahl has requested a meeting with the Minister for the School System and Student Finance, Baroness Diana Barran, to discuss the situation further.

According to the DfE, seven out of 10 schools which became academies due to underperformance in inspections while they were local authority-maintained now have a “good” or “outstanding” Ofsted rating.

A spokesperson told the LDRS: “Strike action is damaging to pupils’ learning and disruptive for parents. Children’s education has always been our priority and they should be in classrooms where they belong.”

They added: “As with any school that receives an overall judgement of inadequate, Byron Court Primary School will become an academy and be transferred to a strong trust – with a strong track record of ensuring pupils receive the highest standard of education.”

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