Friday, 1 April 2011

Industrial Action at Garstang High School

Introduction & Posting Guidelines - Please Read First

Industrial action in schools is always regrettable as it disrupts the education of pupils and the work committments of parents, as well as increasing divisions within the school, leading to lower morale and an unsettled atmosphere.  Not good for anyone.

In such situations it is advisable for all parties to try to achieve absolute clarity when negotiating or imparting information.

As a general principle, it is also important not to impute or project motives onto individuals or organisations in communications to parents where a) those individuals or organisations have not been able to issue any statements to parents, and b) where they have no right, nor mechanism, of reply.

This arises because the NASUWT has called for industrial action at the school on Tuesday April 5th based on their understanding that the school has made the decision to proceed towards Academy status.

This is understandable because of this letter issued to parents on 28th Feb by Mr Ibison, chair of governors, in which he writes:

"Therefore, I can report that the Governing Body of Garstang High School recently convened an Extraordinary Meeting at which all the pros and cons of our prospective academisation were discussed.  Subsequently, the Governors passed a resolution that the school should proceed towards Academy status, as they felt that this would best serve the interests of our school community."

Read the Full Letter

The union has, as have I, and many other parents, taken this to mean that a final decision had been taken and that the school will proceed towards making an academy application.

This now seems to be contradicted in this communication to parents from the headmaster Mr Birch on 31st March.  Here he writes concerning the unions industrial action:

"The background to this strike action is our school’s consideration of converting to an academy at some stage in the next academic year. As you may have read in last week’s Courier, we are still at a relatively early stage of our consultation process, and no definitive decision on the school’s future has yet been taken.

It is evident, therefore, that strike action is being used pre-emptively, rather than as a last resort, to disrupt and undermine our stakeholder consultations."

Read the Full Letter

 To avoid any further confusion, it would be helpful, for all concerned, if the school could put together a consultation document (here is an example), explaining what the consultation process will be, when it will run from and to, who will be consulted, what meetings will be held and when a final decision will be taken.

Without this, it will be difficult to achieve the sort of clarity needed to deal with this very sensitive issue.  Everyone needs to know exactly what the process is and for there to be total transparency with everything, as much as possible, in the public domain.  Without this, it is most certainly not fair to slur the unions' reputation, nor by implication, the integrity and responsibility of any teachers who may take part in any industrial action.


  1. What I would like to know is why there has been no meeting for parents in the school. It seems that the only communication we have received has been via letters, the website or the press. When are the governors and Mr Birch going to invite us to the school for a discussion? If this is a consultation process, why have we not had a chance to hear from Mr Birch and his team first hand and also been given the opportunity to hear what the teachers and their unions have to say, seeing as they are a massive part of the consultation process? It is interesting to read in Mr Birch's most recent letter that "there are a large number of schools across the country which are considering Academy status and are facing similar difficulties with the main teaching unions." Why is that? If academies are so great, why are the main teaching unions so against them? As far as I am aware, teachers have not been on strike since I was at school myself, about 30 years ago. So it is wrong to say that unions are causing difficulties, when in actual fact, they are just trying to look after the interests of their members and the students they teach. Our children are worth fighting for and I would like to offer my full support to all of those teachers who are brave enough to do do just this. Good luck to the staff at Garstang and let's hope the wider community get behind them and support them in what is probably very reluctant industrial action. I will be showing my support for the staff on Tuesday and hope other parents will join me.

  2. I don't know. Perhaps there will be some meetings organised. Perhaps that is what Mr Birch means when he says that we are in the early stages of the consultation process; that there will be meetings held in the future. That's my point: we just don't know.

    I think it would be helpful to have something like a 'Question Time' panel format, where we could hear presentations of the pros and cons from both sides followed by questions and discussion, and then perhaps a poll to gauge the response.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but as far as I know, the governors aren't obliged to do any of that. As Michael Gove makes clear, consultation can mean anything they want it to mean. Whether that is right morally or democratically is another matter IMO.

    But I confess, I'm puzzled: wouldn't you do all the consultation first and THEN make a decision; rather than make the decision in the middle of the consultation? You don't need an EGM to agree to consult on something do you? It's all very baffling.

  3. I agree-it's very confusing and I think the vast majority of parents would welcome a meeting as you suggest above. I wonder if the teachers have voted? In light of the industrial action, it would seem not. It cannot be an easy working environment there at the moment.

    Another thing that puzzles me is Mr Birch's statement that "a large number of schools across the country which are considering Academy status are facing similar difficulties with the main teaching unions." According to figures in the papers last week, only 3% of schools nationwide are considering or have become Academies. I would hardly call this a large number and it makes me wonder why the other 97% of schools are simply not interested in Michael Gove's vision. That is why I would like to find out more about Academies from all perspectives, not just from the governors and management of the school, but from the teachers themselves and their unions.

    An open and balanced debate certainly should take place when so much is at stake. If the school gets it wrong, and the Academy is a disaster, what protection do the children have then? Where will it leave those students in Year 7 who have their whole school careers ahead of them? We, as parents, surely have a right to know the risks as well as the advantages.

  4. C A Goss, parent3 April 2011 at 11:20

    The risks:As I understand it there is no route back from academy status.The school will be left to sink or swim (or possibly bailed out at great expense to the tax payer, like a bank that's run out of control). I think that is the whole point.The government seemingly believes this will drive up standards.In reality, inevitably some will succeed and some will fail. Parents will inevitably scramble to get their children into the successful schools, and instead of everyone having a reasonably good school on their doorstep, some will have bright enough children and be competitive enough to win the school of their choice, and some will be left with the dregs.

    Surely we can do better than this dim-witted, "survival of the fittest" approach to the education of our children. The next generation will need better than this.

    At the heart of the government's policy is the unwritten urge to get the private sector funding our education system, so that the government can write off as much as possible from the national debt.

    The teaching unions have plenty to say about their view of the academies programme. I don't know of any union that is in favour of it. Their websites offer cogent points of view. There are links to NASUWT, NUT and ATL above.

  5. Thanks for putting this site together. It's informative and helping provide more information than we're getting from the school. Why aren't the governors coming on here to defend academy status - they voted for it? They are still going to be spending taxpayers, i.e. our money, aren't they?

  6. My guess is that it wouldn't be considered appropriate for the governors to do that.

    They make policy decisions as a governing BODY, not as individuals and might therefore be required to respond officially, through the chair.

    In this forum, they could of course express individual opinions anon, or explore various aspects of the issues, or defend academy status in the same sort of way that gov't ministers may defend government policy. They cannot speak on behalf of the governing body though.

    I'm assuming they have examined the matter in far greater detail than I, or many other parents have done, and it is a pity that there are not more contributions from proponents of academy status forthcoming to help stimulate the debate. We don't bite here!

    I'm happy you've found the site helpful. You're quite right, they will still be spending tax payers money - even as an academy - though arguably with less democratic control. There are instances where academies are buying in services from firms or organisations to which one or more governers have links or an interest, and where they have bypassed a proper tendering process. That is worrying.

  7. I find the whole idea worrying. The fact that land owned by the LEA passes to the academy is something else which needs careful scrutiny. Can governors then decide to sell off this land? Can developers then move in and build on the land? Will students lose out as their school shrinks and a housing estate springs up around them?

    I'm not saying this will happen at Garstang, although there is a lot of land around the school site, but I am worried it COULD happen and we would have no say in this process.

    I have also found this site very informative and hope that many more parents will access it now we know it exists-thanks to the Courier for passing on the information. Obviously most of the posts are recent so maybe we are just beginning to get a discussion going on here, which is great.

  8. My Fear is that we will also be disadvantaging our children by not becoming an academy. Ideologically I am against it but this government is obviously in the market for rewarding those schools who become academy's [10% increase in funding per child] Even the unions believe it is to produce a two tier Education system. It seems to me if we stick to principles the only people to loose out are our Children. The argument that there is now way back is also vacuous, The NHS has Foundation Hospitals taken back and if the political situation changes anything is possible
    The obvious breakdown in the relationship teaching team is something we need to be most concerned about. Whatever the outcome there will be losers who will obviously then be not as motivated for the organisation to succeed. Again this will impact on the education offered to our kid's.
    All I can say is that loosing money by remaining on the moral high-ground may feel better, but playing the government the game to protect the future of a great school and the kids could be the better option.
    I seriously worry for the education of my child and now regret choosing the school for my to start in September. It seems they will be loosing out whatever happens

  9. Where will you draw the line then?

    You can give ground and give ground and wake up one day and find you've none left to stand on.

    All the hard work people have put into building an education service that works and serves everyone has been wiped away.

    It isn't just my child that matters: it's every child. Don't we have a responsibility to them too, for the future?

  10. Staff will want what is best for the children in any situation. If, God help us, the school does become an academy, then the staff will work to deliver the best education they can for the children they teach, regardless if they agree with the academy or not- that is their job and why they went into the profession in the first place.

    However, if a decision to become an academy goes ahead, the school will lose out on some of its good staff simply because they will want to move out of this type of environment. Most staff did not go into education to work in the private sector. Quality state education for all is what most teachers would like to see, not privately sponsored academies where anyone can buy their way in and call the shots.

    Any extra money promised from the government will be swallowed up by services currently provided by the LEA, and the school will be worse not better off as it struggles to pay for its own services. It will then have to cut corners, thus providing cheaper and more inferior services to the quality it receives now via the LEA.

    The government is not rewarding schools, it is bribing them. I don't think this is a question of taking the moral high ground at all. This is a matter of standing strong as the majority of schools are doing in Lancashire. The more schools who stand up and say no to this bribe, the more the government will be forced to re-think their agenda for schools, much as they have done with the NHS in the last few days.

    If parents do seriously worry for the education of their children, then saying a very loud no to academies is the best way to show this concern. If they want what is best, and not cheapest, then they need to strongly oppose academies and refuse to allow the government to steal their local schools from them.