Teachers at failing city academy vote in favour of industrial action

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The Independent Online

Teachers at one of Tony Blair's flagship city academy schools have voted to strike over feared job cuts and plans to make new staff work longer hours.

Staff at Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough agreed on a walk-out yesterday at the troubled school, which has been hit by financial problems and was classified as failing by inspectors last week.

The second-largest teachers' union, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (Nasuwt) revealed that 70 per cent of its members at the school had voted in favour of industrial action, including strikes.

The union is angry at proposed job losses and also changes to teachers' working hours which could see them working evenings and Saturday mornings.

Teachers at the school have also claimed that they were afraid to go to work because of violence and intimidation from pupils.

Joe McCarthy, chairman of the trust which runs the academy, said he was "disappointed" at the ballot result. He added: "As I have made it clear, I believe that industrial action is the very last thing we need at this critical stage in the development of the academy."

The school has run up a budget deficit of around £1.5m after overspending by £500,000 a year. Ten teaching jobs must go in order to balance the budget, Mr McCarthy said.

"Of the 10 teaching post reductions we are having to make, we have already achieved nine without any need for compulsory redundancy," he said.

"Our spending has been running at £500,000 a year over our available budget and what is needed now is co-operation rather than confrontation."

Last week, Unity City Academy became the first of the Government's flagship schools to be failed by Ofsted.

As revealed by The Independent, the school was judged to be failing to provide "an acceptable standard of education". It will face repeated visits from inspectors and could be closed if it fails to improve.

Only 17 per cent of Unity's pupils gained five good GCSE passes last summer compared with a national average of 54 per cent.

Chris Keates, general secretary of Nasuwt, said she hoped strike action would not be necessary. "The result of this ballot demonstrates that the resolve of members to continue to resist a worsening of conditions and to protect jobs at the academy is absolutely solid," she said. "However, if at all possible, Nasuwt wishes to avert the need for action."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "We are disappointed at this result and hope this matter will be resolved soon so that the academy can focus on driving forward with its plans for improvement."

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