EXCLUSIVE: Furious parents stand firmly with King Solomon School as it faces eight-day shutdown after staff vote to strike

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EXCLUSIVE: Furious parents stand firmly with King Solomon School as it faces eight-day shutdown after staff vote to strike

'Selfish and totally unacceptable' planned walk-outs by 38 teachers will likely force the Redbridge school to close in crucial period ahead of GCSEs and A levels

King Solomon school in Ilford, Essex
King Solomon school in Ilford, Essex

Parents have declared their unwavering support for the headteacher of Essex’s only Jewish secondary school as thirty eight members of staff have voted to go on strike for eight days from next week.

Proposed action by members of the NEU (National Education Union) will likely force the closure of King Solomon High School in Redbridge, led by Michele Phillips.

According to the school, the NEU plans to strike because it is demanding that head teacher Phillips and school governors make guarantees that staff currently being monitored to improve their teaching, will not progress to more formal procedures. The NEU is also demanding that lesson observations of teachers are capped to three times a year.

These demands are in addition to 15 others sent to the school which have been agreed to.

Speaking to Jewish News on condition of anonymity, one parent said: “Our children have already had to endure numerous lesson cancellations due to illness and shortages of teachers. This strike is totally unacceptable in such a crucial stage of their education.  We appreciate that the teachers work hard and do not like all the changes that are being introduced, however these are necessary to bring the school out of requires improvement.  For the teachers to further impact the shortcomings of this year’s teaching levels by striking is selfish, and only impacts the children’s education further.”

Candice Blitz, a parent of a student in year 8 and with another child joining the school this September told Jewish News: “I think it’s really important that your newspaper understands the parents view on the matter, after all we are probably one of the biggest invested stakeholders of the school.

“Our children deserve the best. If there are teachers that are not teaching to a high enough standard, and cannot develop their skills to reach the needed standard and remain complacent, why would we want them to remain teaching our children.

Blitz added: “Why should our children be put in a position where they get mediocre teaching and education because a Union has demanded teachers can never receive formal disciplinary action? And if the teachers can’t potentially be dismissed, how will we be able to attract new teachers with fresh perspective? I dare you to find any business in the world that would agree to such terms. It’s basically saying ‘you can be rubbish at your job, but don’t worry, because we will never discipline or dismiss you if you don’t improve.

“Many of us have written to our head teacher requesting and pleading that she stays strong in her negotiations, and making her aware that we fully support her stance. When it comes to our children and their future, we will fight for them and for the highest standard of education that they all deserve.”

A parent of students in years 8 and 11, with a third accepted to begin at King Solomon this September spoke to Jewish News on condition of anonymity, saying: “Personally, at the moment, I feel that our children are being put in a position where they receive a mediocre education in some subjects and in return there’s a Union that has demanded teachers can never receive formal disciplinary action, nor that they should progress and improve.

They added that students have “already missed so much having to deal with Covid and national teachers strikes.”

Another parent shared with Jewish News the letter of solidarity they sent to Michele Phillips, which states: “I think that it goes without saying, but actually I thought that it was important enough to say it anyway. We have been incredibly impressed with your hard work, vision and dedication to the school and to our community in the short time that you have been with us. We share your vision, and we are devastated that members of the NEU have not risen to the challenge that they have been set. We are on your side, and we will continue to support you and advocate for the changes that are so desperately needed to bring the school to the standard that our children deserve.”

Fifty members of staff in total are in the NEU, so although they have not all voted for strike action, more than 38 staff may strike as they may refuse to cross the picket line.

Michele Phillips, head teacher at King Solomon High School, Redbridge.

King Solomon High School was judged to be ‘Requires Improvement’ in November 2021. The new headteacher, Michele Phillips, along with governors and a new senior leadership team, have put in place a new school improvement plan to secure the future of the school.

The current system in place around teacher accountability and lesson observations is in line with Redbridge Local Authority Policy.

In a statement seen by Jewish News, King Solomon High School said that the NEU is demanding that the headteacher “ignore established Redbridge policy”, that “the school needs to improve, and this means that teaching needs to improve” and “we need to improve in order to maintain a Jewish school in Redbridge, for current and future generations. Leaders holding staff to account is a standard part of running any successful organisation.”

The school added: “There are no words to really describe how damaging, detrimental and upsetting this will be for students and families, especially those taking GCSEs and A Levels later this year. The Senior Leadership Team and Governors still hope to avoid this action, but we fear that despite planned talks with independent mediators, ACAS, on Wednesday 13th March, strike action will likely take place.”

The proposed strike days are as follows:
● Wednesday 20 March 2024
● Thursday 21 March 2024
● Tuesday 26 March 2024
● Wednesday 27 March 2024
● Thursday 28 March 2024
● Thursday 04 April 2024
● Tuesday 09 April 2024
● Wednesday 10 April 2024

The district Secretary, Redbridge NEU told Jewish News:

“Teachers at King Solomon High School are taking nine days of strike action over the misuse of capability procedure, the headteacher’s management style, excessive workload, and a lack of consultation.

“Since a new headteacher joined in September 2023, the school has lost almost all the Senior Leadership team, staff sickness is exceptionally high, and many long-serving and committed staff have resigned citing stress and low morale.

“Attempts to resolve the dispute and prevent any further escalation in a meeting with the headteacher and Chair of Governors in February failed. The headteacher and Chair of Governors remain inflexible and unwilling to acknowledge staff concerns. It was only after this that members voted overwhelmingly to escalate to strike action.

“Members of the NEU are keen to avoid strike action and are calling on parents to write to the headteacher and the local authority to help resolve the dispute.

“A zoom meeting for parents of King Solomon High School will be called on Wednesday 27th March to give them more details about the dispute.”

That proposed meeting is on the fourth day of walk-outs.

This will be the fourth strike by the NEU in Redbridge since 2019. There is a further meeting between the school and the NEU on Wednesday 13th March, mediated by ACAS, (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) in a final attempt to prevent the action going ahead.

A petition launched by parents calling for the strike to be called off has garnered more than 150 signatures.

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