HIGHCREST Academy is facing strike action from teachers next week.
Up to 38 staff from the academy in High Wycombe could strike on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week, union bosses have announced, with further action planned for the week after.
Deputy Principal Ian Newton said emergency talks are planned for Monday in a bid to prevent the strike but warned parents that the academy may be unable to teach all year groups if staff walk out.
The proposed action by members of the NUT and NASUWT trade unions comes after four teachers, represented by the NUT, were deducted pay for failing to attend an appraisal on an inset day.
Highcrest said staff had been allocated half-a-day to prepare for, and take part in, the performance management meeting and their failure to attend was deemed to be a breach of contract.
The academy docked the teachers half-a-day’s wages as a result, with two of members of staff also having a managerial bonus revoked.
But union chiefs say the “punitive fines” were unfairly imposed as their members were still on site working as usual and the appraisal would have only lasted about 30 minutes, not warranting the half-day fine.
The staff stayed away from the performance meeting as part of a ‘lawful campaign’ to improve working conditions, in which teachers were instructed not to attend appraisals unless they met a union checklist - which Highcrest's didn't.
In a statement, Annette Pryce, Bucks County Secretary for the NUT, said: “The NUT is currently involved in a national workload dispute under the banner Protecting Teachers, Defending Education alongside NASUWT.
“Our action is intended to improve the working lives of teachers, at the same time as delivering improvements for the young people they teach.
“Our experience is that most schools have welcomed the opportunity to review working practices and have recognised that rather than disrupting students’ education, our action enhances it.
“Unfortunately, this has not been the case at Highcrest where union members have had pay deductions for taking part in that action; despite repeated attempts to negotiate a reasonable policy for appraisal.
“The teachers at Highcrest are dedicated and hardworking, who believe that their students deserve to have teachers with working conditions that enable them to deliver their very best for the students they teach.
“They seek a positive and fair resolution and remain hopeful that they can avoid the necessity for strike action through constructive talks in order to resolve the dispute.”
NASUWT called the actions of Highcrest management “unprofessional, threatening and intimidating” and demanded the academy hands back the fines before it could call its members off.
In a statement, NASUWT’s General Secretary Chris Keates said: “Following a lawful national ballot, teachers at Highcrest Academy, like the overwhelming majority of teachers across the country, are making a stand against undertaking tasks which distract them from their core role of teaching, and which do not require their skills as qualified teachers.
“The teachers at Highcrest have continued to prepare for and teach their lessons, mark and assess pupils’ work and carry out all those tasks which, in their professional judgement, assist them in focusing on teaching and learning. All clubs and activities which teachers run voluntarily in their own time are continuing.
“Yet despite this, punitive financial deductions have been made from teachers’ wages by the school and teachers have been subject to actions by the school management which they have found grossly unprofessional, threatening and intimidating.
“Not one single pupil has had their education disrupted or compromised by anything the teachers have done prior to being forced to take action.
“The teachers have no wish to disrupt the education of pupils, but they have been forced into this position by the unreasonable, punitive behaviour of their employer.
“As a result of this, the NUT and NASUWT, representing the overwhelming majority of the staff, have been forced to issue notices of strike action in protest at these unfair and unjust actions and to seek the withdrawal of these punitive financial deductions.”
The unions confirmed the action would be ‘sustained’ and members would be reimbursed for the pay they will lose as a result of striking.
Highcrest sent home a letter to all parents on Tuesday stating that a significant number of teachers will work as normal, with education for the younger year groups prioritised to help parents with childcare.
Normal lessons for Year 11 and sixth form students will also be held if their teachers do not strike, but doubts remain over middle year groups.
But the academy was standing by its appraisal system, which it said meets new OFSTED and the Department for Education guidelines.
In a statement, Chair of Governors at Highcrest, Jan Thomas, said: “This strike action follows the new government appraisal policy which was only adopted following a full consultation with the staff.
“At the request of the staff, the policy was amended significantly and half-a-day was allocated to staff to attend their appraisal meetings.
“Four NUT members refused to attend their appraisal meetings and two of these also refused to appraise their departments, which is part of their management role.
“As a consequence, the pay for the half a day which wasn’t worked was removed. This reflects the number of hours they refused to work.
“In addition, a small proportion of the extra management allowance, not their salary, was removed from the two members of staff who had a management responsibility to appraise those in their departments. No disciplinary action was taken against any member of staff.
“We are following policies required by the government but feel the unions are being unreasonable. We have asked for them to give us details as to who is striking to allow us to cover as many classes as possible and cause as little disruption as we can, but they have refused. This leaves parents in a difficult situation for arranging childcare.
“I want to emphasise that it is down to each individual member of staff as to whether they strike or not and we are shocked and saddened by the realisation that the staff choosing to strike are clearly not putting the welfare and education of the children first.”
But Mrs Pryce from the NUT said it had given the academy the required strike notice period and the exact number of members who could strike.
She added teachers cared for their students and regret any inconvenience to parents, but striking was the “last resort” as the academy’s appraisal policy “does not meet union standards”.
New regulations on teacher appraisals were brought in by the government last month following a public consultation.
The previous three-hour limit on classroom observation was abolished to give schools, academies and the local education authority more freedom to design their own policies to manage teacher performance.