Report on Valentine’s Strike, & some questions for Halesowen CE

Thursday the 14th February began very early, with us arriving at 7 to find each gate manned by a large team of extra security in fluorescent jackets. It seems that whilst it is not considered a priority to spend money on specialist staff to cover long term sickness or maternity leave at Halesowen College, there is money to spend on security to protect the college from the very real and dangerous threat of students, teachers and pensioners with a megaphone.

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We were really thrilled to be joined on the picket by the President (Kathy Taylor) and Vice-President (John MacCormack) of UCU. They both spent time talking to members and in particular the dismissed lecturers, as well as taking part in our attempt to deliver the 12.5K petition to the Principal. After e-mailing Keith Bate to inform him of her presence and request a meeting, the President of UCU can now add her name to the long list of people who have received no response to the request to open negotiations with the Senior Management – a list which includes the General Secretary, National and Regional Officials, and even ACAS!

President of UCU Kathy Taylor and VP John MacCormack attempt to help deliver 12.5K signatures calling for reinstatement

President of UCU Kathy Taylor and VP John MacCormack attempt to help deliver 12.5K signatures calling for reinstatement

As part of the Valentine’s day action, the branch attempted to deliver the 12.5K signature petition calling for reinstatement – which includes the signatures of UCU members, parents, students, a former governor, former senior managers, MPs, noted journalists, and other concerned members of the public. We were told firmly by security that it could not be delivered, and students who tried to deliver on our behalf were told the same. The rejection of the Valentine began with a mention of “safe-guarding”, but when questioned further security responded by saying “It just isn’t allowed on the premises”. There is a definite growing theme of the College premises being seen as the property of Senior Management/”The Corporation” – we have been asked repeatedly to remove banners from railings, for example – railings paid for by public money for an institution meant to open up education for the community, not shut it down!

Meanwhile elsewhere round the country UCU members, members of other trades unions and other supportive groups went all out to support the Halesowen 4, holding meetings, sending photographs and messages, spreading awareness and raising money, all of which is very much appreciated. It makes a real difference to know that we are not alone in fighting against this injustice. Here is a picture of Newman UCU who after inviting us to speak recently resolved to hold a Valentine’s cake stall on the day to raise money to support us – thank you everyone!

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The Principal has responded to the strike action by sending round a message to all staff and to the press declaring that the campaign for justice has been based on “completely false and misleading statements” and that “as far as the College is concerned all processes have been exhausted and the matter is now closed”. This seems very general, and we are yet to see any specific challenge to a specific statement.

Does the Principal deny that specialist cover has not been put in place to cover long term sickness in the Maths department over the years concerned? Internal records of amount of days sickness within the department and staffing to cover these (which was entirely added to existing workload for existing lecturers) would suggest that this would be a foolish thing to deny.

Does the Principal deny that Maths lecturers have been in situations where they are teaching two groups at a time, or that classes have been left uncovered to be discovered and hurriedly taught by lecturers? Students might have something to say about this if he does.

Does the Principal deny that a lecturer within the Maths department with AS pass rates significantly lower than Dave Muritu’s, who is not a member of UCU, has not been disciplined in this process which claims to be results focused? We do not believe that this lecturer should be disciplined either as he has had to deal with the same management failings, but the fact that he has not been disciplined throws the argument that this process is about student success out of the water.

Does the Principal deny that students had teaching withdrawn in the vital run up to exams? Again, this would quickly be challenged by students and parents.

That they were told by consultants that the department were understaffed and needed specialist management, and failed to retain these? Records of meetings with the Consultants and staffing records should cover this one.

That the Maths department is still understaffed, with non-specialists still being called in to cover? We have evidence that says otherwise.

That they are now recruiting for temporary unqualified or newly qualified staff to replace the more expensive 60 odd years of experience they have sacked? The evidence for that is in the public domain, here

That the lecturers were all rated as good by internal quality systems? The management’s own statements admit this.

That the college failed to follow internal or ACAS disciplinary procedures? Both state a required time for evidence in a disciplinary hearing to be produced by. Prior to the first hearing, it wasn’t. Additionally, no competency procedures were regarded even though a dismissal based on results implies a conclusion has been made about competency.

So, what exactly has been false or misleading? We wait to hear. Halesowen CE can rest assured that whatever the view of Senior Management, as far as the College community and the wider public are concerned this matter is most certainly not closed.

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