Peacehaven unites against privatisation of community schools

National Education Union members at three East Sussex schools will strike over proposed plans to privatise their schools tomorrow.

Three quarters of Peacehaven town’s schools are expected to be shut as teachers and support staff belonging to the NEU and GMB unions walk out.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, who has spoken out against the academisation plans and in support of the campaign, will visit pickets at Peacehaven Community School, Peacehaven Heights Primary School and Telscombe Cliffs Community Primary Schools.

Almost 100 parents and members of the wider community are expected to join striking teachers and support staff for a rally in Peacehaven’s Centenary Park at 11am, followed by a march through the town. 

Alice Burchfield, mother of two children at Peacehaven Heights Primary School said: “I support the strike wholeheartedly because there is no good reason to academise the schools and very many reasons not to.

“Academies have not been shown to raise attainment and come with worrying risks such as employing unqualified teachers, less money reaching the classroom and less accountability to parents and the community.”

In January governors at Peacehaven Heights and Telscombe Cliffs Community Primary Schools wrote to parents: “On the advice of the local authority (East Sussex County Council), to ensure continuous improvement and bring further capacity to the school in terms of leadership, we must now join an academy trust.”

This led to staff at the two schools voting for strike action and the formation of a community campaign group @HandsOffOurSchools whose petition against the move at change.org has received over 1k signatures.

A consultation over the academisation of Peacehaven Community School took place in early 2017, conversion has been delayed and the school has since improved, being graded ‘good’ by Ofsted in an inspection last year. 

National Education Union members working at the school are on strike to oppose the decision taken by the school’s unelected Interim Executive Board (IEB) of governors to academise the community school and hand it over to the Swale Academies Trust.

Phil Clarke, Secretary of the Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden National Education Union said: “What the staff and community are asking for is very simple, East Sussex Council needs to stop doing behind the scenes deals, which give our schools to private chains like The Swale Academies Trust.

“They then need to make sure every school in Peacehaven has an elected governing body and those governors should not be pressured to hand over our schools.”

Cherry Lean, whose two children attend Telscombe Cliffs Community Primary School said: “We support the teachers and staff and feel that they more than anyone know what is best for the school.

“The parents and staff should be able to have an input on such a risky decision. The school is not failing and when a headteacher is put in place any small improvements that are needed can be made.

“We are simply not being listened to and feel the three schools are being pushed towards the academy route to fit in with a particular trust’s business model and is not being looked at to help pupils or teachers.”

Jack Tyler, National Education Union Regional Officer, said: “Staff do not take the decision to strike lightly, but this is about the long-term future of these three community schools.

“We had hoped to be able to reach a negotiated settlement to these disputes, but despite our best efforts, we have been unable to secure meetings with governing bodies concerned.

“I hope this action demonstrates to East Sussex County Council and the governing bodies of the schools the strength of feeling amongst staff, parents and the wider community and results in the withdrawal of the plans to privatise Peacehaven’s community schools.”