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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Anna Davis

Fear of GSCE failure as teachers at London girls' school strike over colleague's suspension

Parents at an outstanding London girls’ school have warned they fear for their children’s mental health and GCSE results because of strike action by teachers.

National Education Union (NEU) members at St Ursula’s Convent School in Greenwich are striking on Wednesday and Thursday in protest at the suspension of a colleague. This week will see the 13th day of strike action since November.

Parents say children are being damaged by the walkouts, which come after five days of national teacher strikes over pay last year, and months of school closures during the pandemic.

One parent told the Standard: “Is one teacher’s suspension ever a good trade for the education of an entire secondary school?”

The row was sparked after the school’s long-standing NEU rep, named publicly as head of history Alex Turpie by the NEU, was suspended.

NEU members went on strike demanding an independent investigation, which was granted. It is believed the NEU now wants Mr Turpie to be reinstated while the investigation takes place.

The reasons for his suspension have not been made public. The NEU wrote on Twitter: “It’s not possible to disclose information legally about the nature of the allegations against Mr Turpie.

“However the continued support for him and union backing clearly indicates our belief he has no case to answer. If there was any doubt this would not be the case.”

The schools’ exam schedule was affected by the strikes, the Christmas fair had to be rescheduled and catch-up days for GCSE students who missed lessons are also being impacted.

This week only students in Years 10 and 11 are in school, with those in Year 10 doing half days.

Briana Warsing, mother of a year 7 student, said: “This is excessive and is severely impacting the students’ education, mental health and general wellbeing.”

She added: “It’s tough because I believe in unions and believe teachers have the right to strike for more money, but to strike on behalf of one teacher for so many days, choosing the most crucial days for students feels very punitive.”

She added: “There is genuine fear of GCSE failure as a result and the union knows this and is manipulating this fear.”

Elizabeth, mother of a student in Year 10, said her daughter is predicted top grades but in recent exams in subjects affected by the strikes her grades fell.

She said: “She is understandably and justifiably worried about her future. She has worked hard throughout school and feels very let down.”

Parents said their daughters are being given extra catch-up lessons after school, but this is affecting their after-school activities.

One said: “My daughter has no down-time and it is affecting all the children’s mental health. The knock on effect on families is huge.”

Another year 7 parent said: “Parents are feeling disappointed and frustrated. The uncertainty surrounding the strikes has left us feeling anxious for our children’s education.

“The NEU’s actions have caused significant disruption to the normal functioning of the school and have left approximately 600 students as victims of a private dispute.”

A spokeswoman for the school said: “Our priority is keeping our students in the classrooms, which is why we are working tirelessly to resolve this matter. Our Year 10 & 11 students will be taught in school during any strike action.

“We appreciate the strike action is having an impact on students and parents, and that is why we are seeking to engage productively with the union. We continue to work closely with the London Borough of Greenwich.

“The school will endeavour to continue keeping parents and students updated, and we assure them we want to put an end to this matter as quickly as possible.”

In a statement posted on Twitter, the St Ursula’s Convent School NEU group said: “No attempt to resolve the dispute has been made by the school at all. There has been no attempts made to reach a conclusion.”

A spokesman for Greenwich council said it has supported St Ursula’s throughout the strike action, adding: “While we respect the union’s right to strike, everyone’s priority should be for a swift resolution to get all students back in the classroom as quickly as possible.”

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