Strike averted at Colchester Academy as Bright Tribe Trust join table for talks over pay and workload

Fiona Pierson, left, headteacher of Colchester Academy with Linda Bamford, director of secondary edu

Fiona Pierson, left, headteacher of Colchester Academy with Linda Bamford, director of secondary education for the Bright Tribe Trust. Picture: WILL LODGE - Credit: Archant

Planned strike action by teachers which would have partially closed Colchester Academy amid a dispute with the multi-academy trust was suspended on Friday night.

But the teaching union behind the industrial action warned that if talks stall over pay, pensions and workload then teachers may still go on strike in January.

Fears had been raised over teachers quitting before the strike was cancelled.

Parents were put on alert on Friday afternoon when it was announced that Colchester Academy, the former Sir Charles Lucas Arts College taken over by Stockport-based Bright Tribe Trust, would be partially closed next Thursday due to striking staff from teaching union NASUWT.

Over 80% voted to take industrial action in a ballot. Around 30 teaching staff members were set to form a picket line outside the school. Only Year 11 pupils had been told to turn up if it went ahead.

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The NASUWT said the dispute with Bright Tribe still exists over “adverse changes to pensions, workload, and conditions of service including pay and pay progression”.

One of the sticking points was said to be a discrepancy between the 2% pay rise suggested by the government for main-scale teachers and the pay rise given by the trust of 1%.

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On Friday night, Rosemary Carabine, Essex and Suffolk NASUWT representative, said the strike was suspended because “Bright Tribe are now on the table”.

She cited Bright Tribe’s new interim chief operating officer (COO), Heidi Hoskin, for starting negotiations, and therefore leading to the strike to being suspended. Mrs Hoskin replaced Mary McKeeman, who stepped down on November 29 after just nine months.

Mrs Carabine said: “The interim (COO) wants to negotiate the issues that staff have. They work hard but don’t feel appreciated. There are excessive meetings and marking. The expectations on them are over and above what they are required to do. They are just not looking after their welfare.

“But at the moment, we have suspended strike action. We’ve always said we would exhaust as many options. We still have the option to escalate it again in January if it does not go well or if we are not happy.”

The developments could still be regarded as the latest setback for embattled Bright Tribe, set up by venture capitalist and property millionaire Michael Dwan. It has been mired in controversy over support, company payments, and commercial partner influence.

It has denied recent reports that it could drop its four northern England schools. It said their five Suffolk and Essex schools are “progressing well” and are “keen” to expand in the region.

The NASUWT was also taking the same action at The Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, also run by Bright Tribe, which is now seeking a new sponsor for the school.

A Bright Tribe spokesman said: “The trust is pleased to hear that the strike has been called off and is fully committed to working with all staff and trade unions to resolve concerns and provide a good level of education for students at Colchester Academy, who are the trust’s first priority.”

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