Former teachers reveal reasons for strike at troubled Leyland college

Teachers on strike at Leyland St Mary's College in June 2014
Teachers on strike at Leyland St Mary's College in June 2014
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Teachers took to the picket line at Leyland St Mary’s Catholic Technology College last week, following months of low morale and unrest at the school, which suffered a devastating fire last year.

Parents say they have no idea what’s been going on and neither staff or management are talking publicly about the issues that have led to industrial action. Education Reporter SONJA ASTBURY finds out more...

Speaking out: Norman Davidson has lifted the lid on the unrest at St Mary's Catholic Technical College

Speaking out: Norman Davidson has lifted the lid on the unrest at St Mary's Catholic Technical College

“A caring, Catholic school, where people queued up to send their children. A school where staff stayed, were rarely off sick and supported each other as one big happy family.”

That is how Norman Davidson remembers Leyland St Mary’s Catholic Technology College. Now it is a hotbed of unrest, with many staff on long term sick with stress and others taking to the picket line to protest about how the school is being run.

Norman retired two years ago after 35 years at the school.

He had been enjoying retirement – until he ran into a former colleague last year and ever since has become embroiled in supporting staff involved in the turmoil.

He says staff have been advised not to talk about the dispute because of ongoing investigations, but Norman has spoken out because he thinks parents should know what is going on.

He says he first heard about the problems when he bumped into a former colleague, who was off sick from the school.

“I enquired about her health and the truth started to come out,” he says. “As we sat and talked a text came through to my former colleague to say that 20 of the staff were off school sick [out of 54] and there was a parents evening that night.

“I couldn’t understand what on earth was going on. Normally at that school if two staff were off it would be quite a surprise and we would all pool round and support each other – but 20 odd staff.”

County Hall has confirmed that the school has had serious problems with staff absence and the NASUWT says: “The problems at the school have caused work related stress and are affecting the health and well-being of staff.”

The former head of PE says staff are so unhappy and stressed because of the way they are being treated, morale had plummeted and family life is being affected. More than half a dozen teachers are still off under doctors’ orders due to stress. Over 20 staff have been off at various times under doctors’ orders and some have left altogether.

Norman says it wasn’t just teachers on the picket lines, either, but also the families of those too ill to attend.

“I know of many staff who are off sick with this,” he says. “Some are in school and trying to cope.

“They are good, hard working people who have always put the children first and it is dreadful that these staff haven’t been able to give their side of the story.

“It’s given parents and the wider community and incorrect view of the situation.

“Clearly we need to find a way forward. I just feel so upset about it and I am sure former colleagues do also because these good members of staff are being so poorly treated.”

Parents are also angry they are being kept in the dark.

For many the only insight into the issues came when a letter was sent out this week saying and investigation into the problems had taken place and headteacher Kathy NcNicholas was returning to work. The head was said to have taken time off during the investigation but returned to work last week.

One worried dad, considering moving his children because of the low teacher morale, says: “Until this letter was sent out there had been a complete lack of information from the school, or the governors, as to what has been going on between the head, and a certain number of the teaching staff. Just rumour and gossip.

“We [parents] started to become aware that something was amiss during the spring term.

“There have been a lot of teachers going off sick, and there have been a large number of supply staff covering the absences.

“There were probably six teachers ‘missing’ on both the parent evenings we attended, with some of those from the core subjects. Our confidence was not particularly high when some of the teachers we spoke to hardly knew who they were teaching.”

Homework has been, he says, practically non-existent throughout the school year.

Due to the ongoing situation a number of parents have now decided to move their children to alternative schools.

The dad adds: “Obviously as a parent I am not impressed by the current situation. I feel, along with a number of other parents, that their education is being seriously hampered by this situation, to the extent where I am now seriously considering whether or not I should also relocate my children to an alternative school.

“Due to the lack of information, it would appear from the outside, that there isn’t an acceptable solution to resolve the situation from either party, hence the strike. This at a time when the older children are taking their GCSE’s. If the teachers’ primary concern is supposedly for the children attending the school, then their actions suggest otherwise.”

He adds: “All the parents I have spoken to want to know exactly what has happened for it to come to this, and want things resolving ASAP. We are all watching closely as to what happens next. I personally am beginning to wonder if this is still the right school for my children to attend.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT said: “All that the teachers have asked is that their concerns be taken seriously and their health and well-being considered, so that they are able to discharge effectively their responsibilities.

“These are dedicated and committed teachers who simply want to be treated with dignity at work and able to get on with their job.”

The LEP made several attempts between Friday and Tuesday to get a comment from the school but by the time we went to press had received no response.