Staff at Preston's St Matthew's Church of England Primary School announce plans for more strikes

The school will face more disruption in the new year unless the dispute is resolved.

By Aimee Seddon
Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 4:55 am

Staff from the National Education Union (NEU) at St Matthews Church of England Primary School in Preston has announced plans for further strikes in the new year over a dispute over the school's academisation plan.

Following an initial five days of industrial action in December, the union says there will be a further eight days of strikes in January unless the governing body engages with staff and reverses their "unpopular" plan to join the Cidari Multi Academy Trust from February 1.

NEU members make up 60% of St Matthews's workforce, so when these teachers and supporting staff, totally around 40, first struck on December 7, the school was forced to shut.

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Staff at St Matthews Church of England Primary School will strike for 8 days in January as well if the dispute is not resolved.

Further strikes then took place on December 9, 14, 15 and 16, and the NEU said that their picket lines received support from parents, members of the local community, the Leader of Preston Council and passing motorists during this time.

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As the dispute has not yet been resolved, the NEU has now announced further disruption, with a spokesperson for the NEU calling for the school’s Chair of Governors "to come out of hiding" and make an attempt to resolve it.

NEU Senior Regional Officer, Jim Dye, said: “It is the governing body by their reckless actions who have created this crisis and are solely responsible for the loss of trust and confidence they now have in the eyes of their staff and the wider community. Our members are deeply concerned for the children they teach, and they have been shocked by how out of touch Mr Atkinson (Chair of Governors) and his colleagues appear to be.”

Year 4 class teacher and NEU representative, Julie Copeland, has previosuly told the Post that the academy conversion feels rushed.

A notice issued in accordance with Sections 231A and 234A of the Trade Union and Labour Relations(Consolidation) Act 1992 as amended confirmed that the fresh strike action will be taking place on 11, 13, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26 & 27 January (totalling 8 days).

Although a spokesperson for St Matthew's governing body has been approached for comment on the recent announcement, they said one could not be forthcoming at this time, and instead drew attention to the statement issued last month, when it was confirmed that the initial strikes would be going ahead.

The statement read: ““Following the conclusion of the extended period of consultation, the governors of the school met this week to consider all the information they had and resolved to convert to an academy and join Cidari, the Blackburn Diocese Multi Academy Trust which has a proven track record of working with schools and their communities for the benefit of the children.

“The governors note, with sadness, the planned action by the NEU to take place over five days in the run up to the end of term.”

The initial plan was for St. Matthew’s to join Cidari, which is operated by the Blackburn Diocese, on January 1, but that was put back by a month, and the consultation period into the proposal was also extended by four weeks at the end of October.

Previously, a Year 4 class teacher at the school and NEU representative, Julie Copeland, had told the Post that the academy conversion was being pursued because of a fear that the school would be forced down that route after its next OFSTED inspection.

St Matthews was given a “requires improvement” rating by inspectors in 2017, however if it were to drop into the “inadequate” category, then it would automatically be subject to an academy order, which would see it handed to a sponsor decided by the North West Regional Schools Commissioner, meaning that it would have no say over which academy chain it joined.