STRIKING teachers have again taken industrial action and hundreds of children missed lessons – despite management at a South Tyneside school offering an “olive branch” to resolve a long-running education row.
Dozens of teachers picketed St Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Hebburn yesterday, in protest at plans to increase their working hours.
The fourth strike by members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers (NAS/UWT), again saw about 300 pupils forced to stay at home.
Union leaders say the two extra hours of teaching time a fortnight being demanded by management will actually amount to five hours, once extra preparation and other factors are taken into account.
The school’s board of governors, faced with balancing the books, recently endorsed teachers’ longer working hours, to start in September.
Terence Carney, chairman of governors, again expressed his “disappointment” at the latest strike, adding: “Such industrial action not only disrupts children’s education, but also creates great practical and logistical problems for parents, who have to make other arrangements for themselves and their children.”
Referring to today’s wider strike action involving public sector workers, which saw the Mill Lane school only open to pupils from Years 10 and 12, Mr Carney added: “I believe the recent strikes have been a precursor to the larger action taking place this week.”
Mr Carney has also issued an open letter to striking teachers and parents, suggesting a working party is established to resolve the dispute.
Acknowledging the “hard work and commitment” of teachers in the often more demanding climate of modern education, Mr Carney told union members: “I would propose that we make time together to review the demands placed on you, in addition to your core role of teachers and educators.
“We should identify together those additional tasks you are required to fulfil, determine their appropriateness, relevance and where it is judged they are necessary and of value, to determine ways in which the task can be completed effectively, efficiently and in the least time-demanding way.
“Our aim, to borrow a phrase employed by one of your colleagues in a recent interview, is to find ways to ‘work smarter, not harder’.”
Mr Carney has proposed the creation of a joint working party, to work at improving the work-life balance for teachers at the school.
In an open letter to parents, members of the NUT and NAS/UWT say union officials created a working party some weeks ago and added that Mr Carney had declined requests to meet union officials.
Unions say they “deeply regret” taking strike action, but a spokesman added: “From September, the school wants all teachers to take an extra two hours of lessons per fortnight, when planning, marking and other associated work is factored in, this equates to an additional five hours.
“We believe that removing from teachers the time we spend on planning outstanding lessons and providing constructive feedback to students will lead to a deterioration in the quality of education we are able to provide.
“With more hours of work and a poorer work-life balance, teachers will be more tired, less motivated and less able to deliver outstanding lessons.”
A union spokesman added that management at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy had offered “nothing new” to resolve the dispute.