NUT says `Stalinist' model leads to staff walkout

1st April 2011 at 01:00

A primary "superhead" who sits on government panels reviewing Sats tests and teacher standards has been hit with strikes by staff angry about workload and stress.

Greg Wallace, executive head of Whitmore Primary School in Hackney, east London, saw 10 teachers walk out on two consecutive days last week after failing to reach an agreement with unions on a policy regarding worklife balance.

Mr Wallace, who sits on the Bew review of key stage 2 testing and the new Teachers' Standards Review Group, was brought in to oversee operations at Whitmore in Janaury in a bid to improve attainment. A consultation is underway over whether the school should be absorbed into the Best Start Federation of three other primaries in Hackney, where Mr Wallace is executive principal.

But teaching unions are concerned that Mr Wallace, under the direction of Hackney Learning Trust, is bringing in a testing- and target-focused regime that will exhaust and drive out existing staff at Whitmore.

They claim the three primaries in Mr Wallace's high-achieving federation saw high staff turnover when he arrived because teachers were unable to keep up with the demands of his "Ford motorcars production line" regime.

In an interview with The TES last September, Mr Wallace said that the job of a headteacher was "not about sparing the feelings of adults, but about doing the best for children".

Mark Lushington, spokesman for Hackney NUT, said: "The answer according to the Learning Trust is to get the teachers working all the hours God sends until the results get better.

"The teachers are already being pushed enormously hard and two are already off with stress through the conditions at work. It is not great for them or the children. This is a Stalinist model in order to improve the offer to children. It is improvement by numbers, but we are not prepared to see teachers cracking up."

Mr Wallace and union representatives were due to hold negotiations yesterday on policies governing workload and observations of staff. Mr Lushington said that the union may strike again for two days next week if satisfactory progress was not made, and that industrial action could continue after Easter.

Whitmore received a "satisfactory" rating from Ofsted inspectors in October 2009, who said it was "rapidly improving" with a "committed senior team" and it scored a "good" rating in many categories.

But inspectors said the school needed to work on pupil attainment in Years 3 to 6, in writing and maths. A monitoring report in January this year found the school had made "inadequate progress".

Inspectors said the school's participation in the 2010 Sats boycott meant there was "no evidence to suggest" it had been successful in raising pupil attainment since the last inspection.

A spokeswoman for the school responded to the NUT's claims, saying pupils at Whitmore "deserved better" than they were getting. She said the school was "incredibly disappointed" at the union's decision to take strike action, and that Mr Wallace was prepared to negotiate on the worklife balance policy it had proposed.

She added that the methods used across the Best Start Federation were "proven to raise standards".

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