Workers at Harbinger Primary School on the Isle of Dogs in East London, members of the National Education Union, are on strike 21, 22, and 23 May against bullying and unacceptable behaviour by the headteacher.
Staff first officially raised concerns in November 2018, when 18 staff members submitted a collective grievance in the hope of resolving this issue. In their own words, the official complaints process “got us nowhere”. The union’s demands are a damning indictment of the headteacher.
They insist that the head must apologise for shouting at and belittling staff, agree to anger-management therapy, and admit that he has lied during the investigation into his behaviour. They call for competent leadership. They also request an apology from the Local Education Authority for their “disrespectful, negligent and unbalanced” handling of their original complaint.
In a letter to parents, headteacher, Andy Smith, said that the strike is due to “concerns over my leadership style”. However it takes a rare arrogance to describe his behaviour as “leadership”. Smith has managed to unite an entire staff team against him to the point where they are walking off the job. The union group, which compromised all qualified teaching staff except the head, voted 100% for strikes in an 87% turnout. Since the ballot almost every member of staff in the school has joined the NEU, showing the power of an all-grades union. Strikes of this nature are rare, but the type of behaviour that Harbinger NEU describes is probably familiar to many school workers.
The government’s obsession with pitting children and schools against one another in endless high stakes tests has trained a new breed of head teachers who care more about gaming the system than offering a well rounded, child-centred education. The demands of the league tables cut against the best instincts of children and the best values of teaching staff. In this high pressure environment, management bullying becomes rife.
The Harbinger NEU group have had the courage, vision and organisation to stand up against the bullying. If they win it will inspire many more to organise and take on the bullies.
• Full list of demands, updates and solidarity messages here