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Shrewsbury college lecturers start six days of strikes

By Dominic Robertson | Shrewsbury | Education | Published:

A group of college lecturers in Shrewsbury are taking six days of strike action - the first two starting today.

Shrewsbury College Group principal James Staniforth

The Shrewsbury College Group lecturers, who are part of the National Education Union, were striking today, and tomorrow.

Further action will follow on March 5, 7, 13 and 21.

College principal, James Staniforth, said he was "hugely disappointed" at the action over what he said was a "minor change" to the system the college uses to observe lessons.

The action is being taken as a result of planned changes to the policy surrounding the monitoring of lectures. The organisation, which was created by a merger between Shrewsbury College of Arts and Technology and Shrewsbury Sixth Form College in 2016, previously had two policies for observation of lectures.

Following the merger the college has sought to introduce a uniform policy.

The proposal is to have an observation system where lecturers are given five days’ notice and are graded from one to four – one being outstanding and four being inadequate.

After opposition from members of the union, who make up 104 of the 250-plus lecturers at the college, the organisation agreed to write in a condition that the observation grades could not be used to determine pay or redundancy.

After an initial vote to take action the college took part in discussions over changes to the policy, but in a second vote, involving what the college says was about 32 of the union’s members, they voted to press ahead with the action.

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Mr Staniforth said the college would remain open as normal and that most lessons would be as normal. He said: “We value all of our teachers and we are deeply saddened by the decision to take strike action. Following the merger the college governors and leadership have worked hard to put students at the centre of the college and provide students with an excellent experience.

“This has led to the college’s results for the 2017-2018 year being the best ever across the wide range of courses we offer.

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“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 has 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.”

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“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 whilst 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 were subsequently able to reject the framework.”

Donna Lucas, vice principal for human resources, added: “We have met with the NEU on a number of occasions over the last twelve months and have tried to reach a settlement through engaging ACAS, the national arbitration service. We have listened to the concerns of the NEU that lesson observation grades would be used to determine pay or in redundancy selection (if there were to be any redundancies in the future).

“As a result we have already agreed that observation grades will not be used for these purposes. Teachers have the right to appeal observation outcomes and ask for a re-observation.

"We have also committed to review the system in two years’ time when we can re-consider if use of a summary grade remains necessary in our college.

"The NEU has continued to demand that lessons not be graded in any way, which is a very significant change from what has taken place over a number of years.”

Jean Evanson, of the NEU, said: "We have 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/ category to the lesson.

“NEU remains concerned for the welfare of our members and the impact that grading can have in this respect. Teachers report high stress levels over the observation period. A negative grade can both damage self-esteem and cause sickness absence and be career-ending."

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