SIXTH-form students stood shoulder to shoulder with striking teachers as an academy row at one of the region’s secondary schools gathered pace yesterday.
More than 150 teachers took part in industrial action at Kenton School in Newcastle, with dozens of teenagers showing their support by joining them on the picket line. The strike was organised by members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the NASUWT.
Union members are concerned that if the school’s bid for academy status goes ahead it would affect their working conditions, salaries and make the school more selective, as it would have control over recruitment and admissions.
A 17-year-old student who joined the teachers at the picket line with a placard which read “save our school”, said: “We wanted to support the teachers on strike.
“We know they didn’t want to be out of school for the day, but it is important to make a stand for what you believe in.”
Another sixth former, who asked not to be named, said: “The Government’s plan to convert schools into academies makes it seem like they want to turn them into businesses. That’s not what schools are about and they should be left alone to do what they are good at ... teaching young people.”
Union members said talks had broken down between staff and the school’s management, which is why the strike went ahead.
Ian Grayson, a teacher at Kenton School for more than 25 years and a national executive member for the NUT, said: “The high level of risk involved in academy status far outweighs any of the suggested advantages.”
Yesterday’s industrial action forced the school to close to around 1,400 students in Years Seven to 10, but classes went ahead for those in Years 11 to 13.
Headteacher David Pearmain said he was disappointed the teachers voted to strike. He added: “There is no threat whatsoever to staff pay and conditions. Our governors made a promise and assurance before there was any question of industrial action, that if at any time in the future they were to talk about change in pay and conditions it would only be to improve them above the national standard.
“What we are doing with our children is light years ahead and shows our motto ‘all different, all equal’ by giving a different curriculum to every child, from the most gifted to the most challenged, according to their needs.
“Academy status will give us more freedom to introduce more great innovations and we will get more money.”
Addressing the parents, he added: “I am very sorry for this interruption to the students’ learning which is not the governors’ choosing or mine.”
Further walk-outs are planned for September 27 and 29.