Teachers strike over union recognition at free school

By Patrick Howse
BBC News, Education reporter

image captionPupils at the academy can "study independently", but industrial action means there are no lessons

There have been no lessons at a free school in London for a second day, as teachers strike over union recognition.

The Stem Academy, a sixth form college in Islington, says the National Union of Teachers' action is "shocking".

The NUT says it wants to negotiate with the academy, but its representatives were "sent away with a flea in their ear" after a meeting on Monday.

With further action scheduled next week, the two sides seem no nearer finding a solution to the dispute.

The Stem Academy Tech City describes itself on its website as: "London's first Sixth Form Academy to specialise in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths."

'Concerns addressed'

"All our students have access to an exciting, innovative curriculum and an extensive extracurricular programme across a range of clubs and societies as well as a social calendar of events, outings and activities," the website says.

But the top entry on the website is a notice telling students that there are no lessons because of strike action, though it maintains it is still open for people wanting to "independently study".

The dispute is about staff contracts and union recognition.

The academy's principal, John O'Shea, insists that they have "been working with staff throughout this process and have now addressed all concerns relating to contracts."

"I am deeply shocked that the NUT renewed its strike action, given that it has been made perfectly clear that the school's Governing Body is willing to recognise the union and to enter into meaningful negotiations," he said.

"I met with the NUT on Monday evening and again on Tuesday morning. On both occasions I underlined our commitment to union recognition and to entering into a voluntary agreement."

'Turned up anyway'

But the NUT disputes that version of events.

The NUT's Bob Stapley said Monday's meeting had been cancelled at short notice, but that the union team "turned up anyway".

"We were sent away with a flea in our ear," he said, "and have been offered a further meeting next Thursday."

That is after the next round of action, a three-day strike scheduled to start next Tuesday.

"They haven't discussed the contract concerns with us," Mr Stapley said.

"We want to meet as soon as possible, we just want to sit round a table and resolve these issues," he added.

Principal Mr O'Shea laid the blame for the dispute on the union.

"Instead of continuing with the process we had thought was in train, the NUT has instead chosen to take unnecessary, drastic action, to the detriment of our students above all else," he said.

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