Teachers threaten strikes on closures

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THE BIGGEST teachers' union threatened strikes to stop the Government closing failing schools and sacking the staff.

Delegates at the National Union of Teachers' (NUT) annual conference voted for local strikes yesterday, days after David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, told them his "fresh start" policy was working. The union is already poised to vote on a strike against the imposition of performance- related pay.

The Brighton conference heard that hundreds of teachers in inner-city schools were being made redundant by closures. Delegates accused the Government and local education authorities of scapegoating teachers grappling with difficulties in some of the poorestparts of the country.

Under the "fresh-start" policy, schools that failed their inspection are given two years to improve. If they do not they are closed and reopened with a new name and many new staff.

Kevin Doherty, a teacher made redundant from George Orwell School in north London, which will reopen as an arts and media college in September, said many of his former pupils believe they were failures. "They come up to you and say, `the school is closing. We are failures aren't we?'."

Doug McAvoy, the NUT general secretary, said teachers should be paid extra to stay in failing schools and turn them round. Andrew Swainston, from Lambeth, in south London, a teacher at Lillian Baylis School, one of 18 schools "named and shamed" when the Government first took office, said: "I speak in defence of hundreds of schools and thousands of teachers who have been pilloried and maligned despite the fact that they are working in the worst conditions imaginable. Injury to one is injury to all." His school was given a clean bill of health and hailed as one of the fastest- improving in the country but was still being "restructured." Five years ago there had been 40 black staff; by August this year there will be none.

Martin Powell-Davies, from Lewisham, south-east London, said 31 teachers at Hatcham Wood School faced dismissal. "The line is get rid of the staff and bring in new ones ... it is rubbish, very dangerous rubbish. Dangerous for pupils, who face growing uncertainty and dangerous for staff, who face losing their jobs."

Martin Reed, of the NUT executive, said: "The `fresh-start' culture has nothing to do with improvement ... It has everything to do with shattered morale, fear and distrust."

Anne Antonio said only three out of 43 teachers at Marina High School, Brighton, where two-thirds of pupils have learning difficulties, had been guaranteed their jobs under plans to close and reopen it. Yet a month ago an inspector said one new teacher's lesson was faultless. "Is this the sort of teacher we want to make redundant because of this scapegoating exercise?" she said.

r The leader of the second- biggest teaching union appealed to ministers to negotiate and avert conflict over performance-related pay.

Bill Morley, incoming president of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, told its conference compromise was essential to avert the sort of confrontation that followed introduction of national curriculum tests in the early Nineties.