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Published: 1 February 2008
‘Give us a break!’ Why teachers will walk out

• Headteacher of the Year and interim head of Pimlico School, Jo Shuter, imposed a 30-minute lunch break on staff at the school and is refusing to negotiate an increase. The lunch break was reduced from 45 minutes after a “consultation” exercise which gave parents, staff and students the “choice” between two shortened breaks. Originally to come into effect when the demolition and rebuilding of the school began in January, it was imposed without consultation from September last year.
Pimlico School, which is likely to come out of special measures at Easter, is under threat of being handed over to Conservative Party donor and private equity fund-owner John Nash to be run as an academy.
Staff believe that the 30-minute lunch break is part of preparation for the worsening of conditions which are likely to follow from the academy takeover because both of the other academies in Westminster tried to cut lunch breaks in a similar way. In one case, it was only the threat of strike action by the NUT that secured an increase in the lunch break. The general experience of academies is that they worsen the working conditions of teachers including ­shorter breaks, more covering for absent ­colleagues and longer working hours.
Westminster NUT and school reps have made exhaustive efforts to negotiate a settlement before and since the last strike on November 27 and even postponed the strike action to allow more time for negotiations and because it would have interfered with exam preparations.
Neither the head nor the Westminster council officers who run the school (the “junta” as they are referred to by staff and parents because of their refusal to consult) have made any serious proposals to try to resolve the dispute, other than to employ an “industrial relations consultant” to try to break the strike.
Westminster has refused to pay for additional supervision at break and lunch times to ensure the health and safety of pupils whose playground space has been reduced by more than half because of the building work.
Staff and students at Pimlico are also faced with the prospect of having to work on a building site for at least three years during which time the school is demolished and rebuilt around us.
Already the noise from the building work is seriously affecting teaching and learning in rooms along the back of the building.
Parents also support the demand for a longer lunch break.
NUT members feel that having to work on a building site for three years is bad enough without any other worsening of conditions.
We are fighting to defend conditions of all teachers and will continue to do so.
A further strike has been called for Wednesday, February 27.
Secretary of Westminster Teachers Association

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