Little Ilford strikers fight to defend their east London school – Socialist Worker



Unity on the picket line outside Little Ilford school in east London (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Workers at Little Ilford school in east London began a two-day strike on Wednesday against plans that would damage the quality of education.

Over 50 NEU union members are fighting against the forcible expansion of the school from 1,470 pupils to 1,800. They staged a one-day walkout last week—and plan a three-day one from next Tuesday. 

NEU rep Kate said, “We don’t want to strike, but the local authority are not offering us anything. We asked for decent sized classrooms. They have gone as far as costing this, but no further.

“We hope they are using this time to come up with solutions that will benefit our students looking to the long-term future.” 

She added, “What we really excel at is our level of care. Families of children with complex needs apply from all over the borough and out of the borough to come here.” 

London NEU organiser Michael Gavan said, “Expanding without proper provision would be a disaster. 

“None of their concerns have been listened to, but the strike is changing that. The council will have to listen now.” 

Pritpal, a maths teacher who works closely with the special educational needs department, explained, “Complex Needs is an area that is already understaffed. If class sizes grow, there won’t be the help for individuals.”

One head of year described how teachers are “already working a six to seven lesson day and the workload is immense”. “The managerial problems of making departments even bigger just hasn’t been considered,” they said. 

The lack of consultation is a burning issue. Tony asked, “How can the council enforce this without parents’ knowledge? 

“It’s come so suddenly—that’s not right.” 

Little Ilford stands out as a real community school. So many school workers went to the school as pupils, so many have chosen to stay there for decades, so many former pupils keep in contact. 

Suresh, a teacher who was a Little Ilford pupil, said, “I don’t see how we are going to keep up that level of connection if the school expands. 

“I came with a very low level of English and got one-to-one support. Without that, I wouldn’t be a teacher now.”

He said an increase in school places has to be “done properly to retain the quality of education”. 

Determined

There is a lively atmosphere on the picket lines and workers are determined to beat back the plans. Teacher Besnik summed up the mood, saying, “Little Ilford is my second family. 

“We work for each other and for our students. We won’t stop fighting until they listen.” 

Ayan, a young teacher, had never been on strike before. “I see the staff who have been here for a long time,” she said. “I sense their solidarity and see what they are fighting for. 

“I want to be part of making the change in terms of stopping the expansion and continuing with the good things the school is doing.” 

NEU members voted by 96 percent for strikes on a 73 percent turnout.

Steve Hedley, senior assistant general secretary of the RMT rail union, brought solidarity from his union and Newham trades council. “This is another example of the government attacking vulnerable people,” he said. 

“It was stupid at any time to plan for smaller classrooms to cram in more students, but at a time of a Covid-19 crisis it was ridiculous’. 

And Dominic Byrne, vice chair of the NEU action committee, said the strikers would be backed up by the union all the way. 

Trade unionists should build solidarity for the fight at Little Ilford.