Strike looms at Highgate Wood School

PLANS to increase teaching hours at a Crouch End school to compensate for a budget overspend could lead to strike action, after they were slammed by the local education union as ‘bad news for teachers and pupils.

Highgate Wood School says making teachers have contact time with pupils for an hour extra a week – from 20 to 21 hours – will save the equivalent of four teaching posts and prevent redundancies. It will also mean they still have 16 per cent of their time outside of the classroom for planning and preparation – above the 10 per cent allowed for in national teachers’ terms and conditions.

But Haringey’s branch of the National Union of Teachers says the decision will adversely affect pupils, significantly affect the quality of teaching and reneges on a 30-year commitment by all the borough’s secondary schools to give teachers 20 per cent of the week to prepare lessons. Highgate Wood will be the only school in the borough to give less.

The group say they have been left out of the plans and 80 per cent of NUT members at the school have voted in favour of a ballot for strike action, unless governors negotiate with the union.

Secretary of Haringey’s NUT Tony Brockman said they are also suspicious of the plans as making teachers teach more, by itself, will not save money and will only result in savings if it leads to fewer staff being employed.

In a letter to parents, headteacher Patrick Cozier and Chair of Governors Imogen Pennell blame “tightening budgets nationally” and a �200,000 overspend for the year ending March 2011 for the change. More money will be saved by cutting �100,000 from non-teaching costs and reviewing managing structures and non-staffing costs.

But the NUT says the letter fails to mention how much of the overspend has arisen from the school’s decision to fund capital building works and IT from the revenue budget and that the deficit could instead be met by a small reduction in staff through a combination of natural turnover and voluntary redundancy.

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Mr Brockman said: “The financial problem is the result of poor financial control and is hopefully not going to re-occur, but the governors have agreed a cut which would be permanent. Cutting planning and marking time for teachers can only lead to lower standards and increased stress.

“The governors have taken their case to the press rather than talk to the union. This is not negotiation but confrontation. We appeal to parents to persuade the governors to negotiate with us so that strike action can be avoided.”

Governors’ chair Ms Pennell said staff account for 85 per cent of the school’s costs and it was therefore “inevitable” there must be reductions within that budget. Teachers will be compensated by reducing extra tasks like break time duties and starting later after parent and carers’ evenings.

“The alternatives would be increasing class sizes or reducing the curriculum – both requiring immediate compulsory teacher job losses to fit that new structure,” she said. “We did not think that either would be in the educational interests of our students.

“We need to take action now to prevent facing bigger and more damaging cuts later.”