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Here’s what you need to know about the march & strikes against Thomas Bennett cuts

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Image: Scott Barter

Just over a month after teachers at Thomas Bennett Community College voted overwhelmingly for strike action over recent funding cuts and job losses, more information on this has now come to light.

The average class size at Thomas Bennett has increased since 2014/15 and schoolcuts.org.uk estimate that by 2020 the reduction in the school’s annual budget will be £101,506.

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12 teachers and several support staff have reportedly quit their jobs at Thomas Bennett over the last couple of months and now the National Education Union have four days of strikes in place, commencing on Thursday (21 June).

Leader of Crawley Borough Council, Peter Lamb said:

“It takes a lot to get parents marching and teachers striking, but if these cuts are allowed to go through it is a green light for similar cuts across Crawley.

“We simply can’t allow a generation of children to go without the resources they need for a decent education, to do so would be a betrayal of everything past generations have sacrificed for ours and leave the UK’s without the ability to provide for its future.”

The march took place on Saturday (16 June), starting at Crawley Town Hall.

Protesters gather outside the Town Hall. Image: Scott Barter

The march began outside Crawley Town Hall on Saturday (16 June). Image: Scott Barter

A statement on a petition on change.org to stop the cuts at Thomas Bennett Community College, Crawley reads:

“The Kemnal Academy Trust (TKAT) is proposing dramatic cuts to Thomas Bennett Community College in Crawley that include scrapping the position of head teacher and closing the 6th Form.

“The cuts, if carried out, could see up to 20% cut in leadership posts, up to 15% cut in teachers (5 posts all in the SEN department) and up to 32% cut in support staff.

“Pupils with the greatest need could be hardest hit, with the Special Educational Needs Department being cut by up to 40% and the Education and Welfare Team who look after student well-being by 30%.”

The march continued through the High Street and into Queens Square, where participants assembled for a family friendly picnic, with speakers and entertainment for children.

Image: Scott Barter

Speaking on behalf of National Education Union members, teacher and NEU Rep Alexander Ramiz said:

“The march that took place on Saturday involved people from the community, the students at Thomas Bennett Community College and their parents, and it was inspiring to see so many prepared to take a stand against the devastating cuts to education. This followed an earlier meeting of community members that had well over a hundred and fifty people attending and pledging support. 

“The members of the National Education Union who took part in the march were made up of everyone from teachers and teaching assistants to support staff and school administrators, from senior colleagues who have been at the school for years to more junior colleagues who have only recently joined us. This clearly shows that the vast majority of people understand that the current levels of funding are not enough, and they are now prepared to do something about it.

Protesters, accompanied by police, marching through Crawley. Image: Scott Barter

“People from the local community who have already formed their own campaign group have contacted the County Council, the Regional Schools Commissioner, the academy chain, Henry Smith (the MP for Crawley) and the DFE. I am looking forward to seeing what they can achieve in wanting more say over how their taxes are spent, and in fulfilling their ambitions of demanding better education for the young people of Crawley, especially for those students who have special educational needs.

“The NEU have announced Industrial Action to commence this Thursday. Despite claims from the academy chain that this was timed to cause maximum disruption, my members voted to delay strike action to avoid causing any disruption to the end of year examinations. Everything that we are doing is in the best interests of the students and the community, and I would invite local residents to come along and pledge their support to us when we are on the picket line from 7.30am.

“I expect the community campaign to grow from strength to strength. I myself have been invited to attend the Tilgate Community Forum meeting on 7th July at 7.30pm at the Tilgate Community Centre on Shackleton Road to represent the views of my members and to discuss what has been happening at Thomas Bennett Community College. I shall certainly be attending and I am looking forward to some lively debate. It is my hope that the academy chain shall also accept their invitation to this event.”

Ifield Councillor, Peter Smith. Image: Scott Barter

Thomas Bennett isn’t the only school in the area facing cuts, however; Broadfield Primary Academy will see and estimated reduction of £313,532 by 2020 – that’s a massive £574 per pupil.

The cuts will undoubtedly have a huge impact on students’ education and will add to the increasing pressure put on teachers.

Many locals will be showing their support at the first strike on 21st June and are urging others to join them at the Thomas Bennett Community College gates at 7.30am.

Cn24 contacted TKAT on Friday (15 June) and are awaiting a response.

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Education

‘Reckless’ National Education Union attacks West Sussex Council over schools reopening

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The National Education Union has spoken out saying they have been frustrated by the ‘reckless’ approach they say West Sussex County Council has taken towards the safety of its members on the matter of schools re-opening more widely.

Joint NEU West Sussex Branch Secretary Ann Seuret said:

“It is disappointing that the local authority has referred to a ‘phased re-opening’ because schools have been open throughout the lockdown, where our members have been working on the front line, providing a vital service for vulnerable children and those of key-workers whilst they protect us from this awful disease.”

They say that contrary to the views expressed by some politicians in the county, The National Education Union is consulting on a wider re-opening of schools and is using a detailed checklist endorsed by the other education unions, which follows the structure of the government’s own guidance, to do so. They add that every school needs to consult in good time to fulfil its statutory obligations, and many are only at the beginning of that process.

It has now been confirmed to the NEU that many schools in West Sussex will NOT open more widely on June 1st despite the council claiming that they will. This follows widespread concern from heads in West Sussex wanting reassurances from government.

NEU Regional Officer, James Ellis said:

“The National Education Union wants children to return to school as soon as possible, but only when it is safe. Our five tests set out some reasonable criteria by which to measure this, and they have not been met. We still do not know the rate of infection (the R rate) in the county, or whether or not children are less likely than adults to pass on the infection. Schools are not able to keep children two metres apart, and this is acknowledged in the government guidance. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has concluded that there is no evidence that age affects the likelihood of being infected with Covid19, so we cannot understand why children are not required to social distance. Whilst testing has been increased nationally, our members are not confident that the ability yet exists across West Sussex to isolate cases and successfully contact, track, and trace them. This system just isn’t ready yet, and so we believe West Sussex County Council is acting too hastily. This stands in marked contrast to other councils who are taking a more cautious approach to only open more widely when the scientific data shows it is safe to do so. Despite this recklessness many West Sussex schools are sensibly deciding that 1st June is too soon.”

Primary schools in West Sussex which have already confirmed they will not yet open more widely on June 1st include:

  • all schools run by The University of Brighton Academies Trust: Lindfield, Blackthorns, Holmbush, Pound Hill, Desmond Anderson, and it’s secondary: Burgess Hill Academy
  • all schools run by The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT): Broadfield Primary Academy, Hilltop Primary School, Portfield Primary Academy, Seal Primary Academy, Seymour Primary School, Tangmere Primary Academy, The Bewbush Academy, The Mill Primary Academy, The Oaks Primary School,  and it’s secondaries: Chichester High School,  Thomas Bennett Community College and The Academy, Selsey,
  • Southgate Primary School


In addition, Headteachers at Crawley Secondary Schools: Ifield Community College, Holy Trinity School, St Wilfrid’s, Oriel High School Hazelwick and The Gatwick School
– have taken the unusual step of issuing a joint statement.

In it they said:

“As a group of secondary Headteachers of the schools in Crawley we have unanimously agreed that no students will be in school (other than those for childcare) any earlier than 15th June… We have come to this position in order to act responsibly for the welfare of the school and local community.”

NEU West Sussex Joint Branch Secretary and Health and Safety Officer, Anne Barker said:

“For the National Education Union it is not about an arbitrary date, but uppermost in our considerations is the safety of our members, the children in their care, and their families. The statutory obligations of employers to meaningfully consult on risk assessments is clear.

This means there has to be enough time to explain the issues to our members, time for them to consider and make informed responses, and time for employers to take into account their response before making a final decision.

We are ready to do that on the basis of our five tests and our checklist, but schools must let go of this arbitrary June 1st date. Mr Ellis added, “If schools do push ahead to open more widely on June 1st we will advise members that we do not believe it is safe for them to attend work and that we are not satisfied that the employer has met their obligations under the Health & Safety at Work Act. Any member subjected to a detriment as a consequence of not attending work will be vigorously defended by our union.”

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