“We’d rather be teaching!”

Beal High School is the largest secondary school in England. It is run by an academy trust that treats educators as costs whilst claiming to have “compassion”.

Staff are being punished for being sick

Unlike local authority schools, Beal High School’s Sickness Policy treats sickness absence as a capability or a disciplinary issue. Instead of compassion, staff who are ill are treated punitively and fear being fired from their jobs. Victims of abuse, chronic pain and even pregnant women have been subjected to the capability procedure for daring to be off sick.

Kevin Courtney, Joint-General Secretary of the National Education Union described the school and its policy as “unique and never seen anywhere else”. No other school uses a sickness policy that branches off into capability and disciplinary procedures.

Kevin Courtney, NEU Joint-General Secretary, attends the picket at Beal High School, Redbridge, London

Two Tier Policy

Beal High School also has a two-tier workforce: since 2016, new members of staff have had their sick-pay entitlement slashed and are on significantly worse working conditions. As a result, recruitment and retention will be impacted negatively in the long-term.
Teachers and support staff never take industrial action lightly, and it is only ever done as a last resort. However, for three months after the issues were raised by the union, the school management dragged its feet, refusing to engage in a meaningful way. This approach has backfired on the school, angering the parents who are now forming a group to support the educators.

Management Hubris

It’s not exactly clear why a school that wants to remain “Outstanding” in an OFSTED inspection would behave in a way that eventually drives a large number of its staff to walk out in protest. This can only rationally be interpreted as signs of hubris from a management team that had become used to not seeing its decisions challenged, having failed to meet with the school union reps since 2019.
In Beal High School educators are valued less than in other schools of the London Borough of Redbridge. If the issues remain unresolved, Beal High School will have high staff-turnover as it will be an undesirable workplace for educators. In the long-term, this will have a negative impact on students in one of the most densely populated areas in the UK. Educators’ working conditions are our children’s learning conditions: we need to protect both!