It is a bright Wednesday morning in May. My son, T, a Year 8 pupil, should be at school and I should be working, but instead we are playing tennis. We are also listening to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Dire Straits because he’s supposed to be studying the play in class so I figure I can cover both PE and English literature in the next half an hour before we head home and I start the work I’m meant to be doing.
My son isn’t ill and isn’t playing truant. His school, along with five others in Lewisham, south London, is in the middle of 13 days of strike action called by the National Education Union (NEU). Prendergast Ladywell, Prendergast School, Prendergast Vale, Prendergast Sixth Form and Prendergast Primary are all part of the Leathersellers’ Federation, which wants to turn the schools into a multi-academy trust (MAT).
The NEU is against MATs and academies in general. These strikes are taking place in addition to the days of ‘national action’ over pay. Throw in half-term, bank holidays and coronations and basically my son has been going to school once or twice a week through May and will do until mid-June. Or perhaps mid-July, or perhaps mid-forever as the union wants to ballot its members for more strikes next week after talks broke down again.
Until three weeks ago I had no views whatsoever on academies. T’s school used to be a struggling inner-city state secondary that went from getting a solidly bad ‘requires improvement’ across all criteria from Ofsted in 2016 to hauling itself up to ‘good’ just before the pandemic began. It seemed to be going in the right direction under its current head and management team.