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Teachers walk out for six days over lesson grading

Talks between staff and teachers broke down over plans to introduce a graded lesson observation plan for all staff

Staff at Shrewsbury Colleges Group are walking out for six days in a dispute over lesson observations

Talks between staff and teachers broke down over plans to introduce a graded lesson observation plan for all staff

Teachers at a sixth-form college are taking six days of strike action over proposals to bring in graded lesson observations for more staff.

Around 100 NEU members, more than 40 per cent of the college's 250 teaching staff, were ballotted for strike action. 

Shrewsbury Colleges Group was formed in August 2016 after a merger between Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology and Shrewsbury Sixth Form College. As part of the merger process, the college leadership team wanted to harmonise the lesson observation policy, which had been different at the two colleges. This involved extending the graded lesson observation plan currently in place for teaching staff at the London Road campus to all staff.

Jean Evanson, the NEU teaching union representative for the college, said staff were “overwhelmingly concerned” by the use of graded lesson observations. The year-long dispute has culminated in strike action after Acas talks between the two sides broke down.

Read more: Ten more colleges back strikes in UCU ballot

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Background: A 'new dawn' for lesson observation 

Ms Evanson said: “NEU has put forward the need for, and agreed to work towards, a qualitative, developmental system of lesson observation that results in a constructive discussion rather than a label. We would welcome the opportunity to make this a truly beneficial system for both teachers and students. The employer has continued to insist they must attach a grade or category to the lesson. 

She added: “Teachers report high-stress levels over the observation period. A negative grade can damage self-esteem and cause sickness absence and be career-ending. Ofsted has also recently raised concerns generally about teacher well-being across the country which is having an impact on recruitment and retention. Our members-only strike as a last resort but, after lengthy unsuccessful talks with the employer, that is, unfortunately, the position we have reached.”

James Staniforth, principal and chief executive of Shrewsbury Colleges Group, said he is “deeply saddened” by the strikes. He said: “Across the country, colleges are under increasing financial pressure as a result of funding cuts and increased costs, resulting in courses being cut, staff redundancies, teachers having to work more hours and no pay awards.

"Despite this national context, following the merger, we took the decision to employ all our teachers on sixth form college contracts which have meant significantly improved terms and conditions for most of our teachers. In addition, all of our teaching staff have received national pay awards and there have been no redundancies. 

'Hugely disappointed'

Mr Staniforth added: “I am therefore hugely disappointed that the NEU have decided to take strike action over a minor change to the existing college system for observing lessons. I am also very disappointed that while a majority of all balloted NEU members voted to accept a new framework based on agreed parameters last Friday, a small minority of the membership was subsequently able to reject the framework.

“Many of the teaching staff have been working under an observation system that grades lessons as ‘grade 1 or outstanding’, ‘grade 2 or good’, ‘grade 3 or requires improvement’ or ‘grade 4 or inadequate’ whilst others have been graded as ‘outstanding/good’, ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. Therefore the proposed change aims to bring systems and procedures together across the three campuses whilst distinguishing between lessons that are ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’”

NEU members have already taken two days of strike action last month, with four further walkouts planned for March.

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