TEACHERS who feel they have been made scapegoats for a secondary school’s failings have threatened to go on strike.
Staff who feel they have been treated unfairly during the shake-up and say they have seen colleagues’ mental health suffer have now voted in favour of five days of rolling strikes, though no date for action has been set.
Interim headteacher David Stone acknowledged a ‘level of dissatisfaction around things in school’ but believed most of the issues raised had already been resolved.
He said he was unaware of any planned strike.
Members of NASUWT and NEU unions at Whitworth Park raised 18 grievances with the senior leadership team about working conditions.
Teachers are also upset by ongoing redundancies.
A source said: “They haven’t taken our concerns seriously.
“The vote to escalate to strike action wasn’t unanimous but there was a strong majority.”
Among the complaints were workload, health and safety concerns and poor handling of performance management reviews which led to a delay in pay increases.
One teacher told The Northern Echo: “It is seriously affecting people’s wellbeing, in a survey morale came out 27 out of 100.
“Several members of staff have expressed deep concerns about people’s mental state.
“The worst could absolutely have happened, someone could have been pushed to taking their life.”
Some teachers feel the decision to stop sixth form admissions last September due to dwindling student numbers was short-sighted.
They had believed the school had a £1m budget deficit but later discovered there was a £922k surplus which could have bought the sixth form more time – saving it for the town and preventing redundancies.
One said: “We needed a long term plan, we could have taken the hit one year then built back up.”
Mr Stone said the school did recently get ‘a huge sum of money’ from Durham County Council following the merger of Tudhoe Grange and Spennymoor Comprehensive Schools in 2012, but had not known when it would arrive.
He added: “It was unpredictable so we could not budget for it. We also need to have money to invest in facilities like computers and PE equipment, if we went to zero we’d invest in nothing for the children.”
Disgruntled teachers said they had also warned against previous decisions which contributed to the school’s decline, such as entering pupils for exams early and focussing too much on academic subjects.
One said: “Middle management, experienced teachers felt they had no say and if they did say something it was ignored.
“The problem is the leaders, they put pressure on us while they swan around like they own the place.”
Mr Stone said there had been an overhaul of management, with the former headteacher and three assistants no longer there, and a broader range of vocational subjects are now offered to pupils.
He said Governors had challenged ‘a couple of staff’ about performance and the pay delay was a Local Authority issue.
He said: “They have more of a voice that they have ever had in the past and a staff wellbeing member of staff has been appointed.”
He said with temporary staff already gone and a number of teachers agreeing to voluntary redundancy or retirement about 2.75 full time equivalent jobs still need to be cut, which may require compulsory redundancies.
He said: “There was a significant amount of work to get to that point.
“I’m not unsympathetic. It is important, it is people’s jobs.
“We have done everything under the sun that we can think of to support colleagues.
“It is not the desire of the school to lose outstanding teachers, which is what we have got here, it is necessary around the sixth form changes.”
Phil Kemp, NASUWT national executive member in the North East, said: “NASUWT is committed to supporting members at Whitworth Park School during a difficult time for the school.
“Job loss, workload, pay and staff morale are issues that NASUWT is working with the headteacher and governing body to resolve.
“NASUWT has also had several constructive meetings with the leadership of Advance Learning Partnership (ALP) who are due to take over running the school in the near future.”
The transfer to ALP, which is based at Parkside Academy, Willington, was expected on March 1 but has been put back while legal issues over land assets are resolved.
Phil Hodgson, Durham County Council’s head of education, said: “We are obviously disappointed to hear of any proposed action and, should it go ahead, will work with the school to minimise any effect on pupils.”
Mr Stone added: “We have made huge strides moving forward and forecast results look promising.
“If we want to change, to give a better service to children, we have got to work at it.”