Teachers and support staff are taking strike action today (Wednesday 28th April) and tomorrow (Thursday 29th April) following the announcement that The Pioneer Academy (TPA) has been imposed as the sponsor by the Regional Schools Commission. Attempts by NEU, GMB and UNISON to correspond with Baroness Berridge, who was given responsibility for the decision, have been met with a wall of silence.
This morning, school staff were joined by parents, children, councillors, and local MP Lloyd Russell Moyle, outside the school gates. The school was festooned with home-made banners, ‘protest pillowcases’ and placards as local parents, other Brighton and Hove schools and community organisations showed their support for the action.
The school is situated on the Lewes Road and there was a constant soundtrack of horns beeping in solidarity with the campaign. The vibrant colours and messages made it very clear that the community supports their call for the school to stay within the Brighton and Hove family of schools.
Union officers made sure that rules on Covid-safety were applied. Supporters from the community will be welcome to visit the picket lines again on Thursday, from 8am – 10am, but will be asked to stay within household/support bubbles, maintain social distance and wear a mask.
Staff have taken the decision to strike with a heavy heart because they know this will place pressure on families, and because it disrupts the education of children. But unions have committed to working with community groups to support families with the provision of free meals and activities to minimize the impact where there are childcare needs. The strike action could have been prevented if the sponsorship had been withdrawn. In 2019, the previous sponsor, The New Horizons Trust, withdrew after sustained pressure from parents and the community. Unions are calling on The Pioneer Academy to step away.
Local MPs, councillors and parents/carers from the Hands Off Moulsecoomb Primary campaign have condemned the imposition of The Pioneer Academy and the refusal to respect the wishes of the local community. They are committed to continuing the campaign during the ‘due diligence’ period that now follows, and to pressurizing The Pioneer Academy to withdraw to allow Moulsecoomb Primary to continue improving as part of the Brighton and Hove family of schools. The DFE are presenting it as a ‘done deal’ but campaigners are determined that local democracy will prevail.
Lee Mason-Ellis, the Chief Executive Officer of the Pioneer Academy is worried by the strength of opposition to Academy sponsorship and has distributed two letters to parents in the week since the sponsorship was announced. Hi attempts to rebut points made by unions and campaigners have been given short shrift by parents and made campaigners more determined to protect the school’s current position within the local authority. Mason-Ellis refuted that the Trust would be ‘making money’ out of Moulsecoomb Primary but neglected to mention details of his own salary and those of other senior staff. Unions have discovered that he pays himself £145,000 – £150,000 annually to run 11 schools, significantly more than the Director of Children’s Services in Brighton and Hove, which runs over five times as many schools. As community and academy schools receive the same amount of funding, bloated senior staff pay reduces resources devoted to children in the classroom. Given that the Pioneer Trust has never taken a school from ‘inadequate’ to ‘good’, parents see his promises of additional investment and progress as rather hollow and are not prepared to place at risk the real improvements the school has made with Brighton and Hove, confirmed by Ofsted monitoring visits, since the school was judged ‘inadequate’.