The union behind this week’s teacher strikes at St Ivo Academy has urged parents and carers the decision was “a last resort”. 

Mark Burns, NASUWT’s national executive member for Cambridgeshire, was responding to a letter the school’s interim principal sent over the weekend.  

In his email, Mr Burns explains why, from his perspective, the strikes are going ahead and outlines key events from the negotiations.  

He also says it is “disingenuous” of the school to claim it was “only informed” on Friday (October 27) about the union’s intention to hold the strikes.  

Mr Burns said: “[Our members] have not taken this decision to strike lightly.   

“Many staff who hold the school dear have left since [the Astrea Academy Trust] took over, the core that are left are willing to fight for the school and your children’s future.”   

“I have shown a willingness to compromise in the past, unfortunately the talking has reached an impasse as Astrea believe that they can treat our members in the same way they have treated your children.  

“The Astrea way is the only way and if you do not comply you will be punished.   

“In the face of this, NASUWT members unfortunately feel there is no alternative to strike action.” 

The dispute centres around working conditions, including the controversial behaviour policy and what the union describes as "the erosion of professional autonomy”.  

NASUWT says, for example, the trust goes as far as “dictating the teaching method” to be used in classrooms and does not adequately consult staff over changes being introduced. 

A spokesperson for Astrea Academy Trust said: “Our behaviour policy very much aligns with the NASUWT’s published guidance, which focuses on the importance of children being able to learn free from disruption.” 

The Hunts Post: Mark Burns, the NASUWT National Executive who represents the union's members in Cambridgeshire.Mark Burns, the NASUWT National Executive who represents the union's members in Cambridgeshire. (Image: NASUWT)Members will walk out today (November 1) and on Thursday (November 2) - but the trust insists the school will remain open as normal for the students.   

Three more strike dates are also set for November 7-9.   

A previous strike date was called off after NASUWT felt talks were showing signs of progress. 

Tony Meneaugh, St Ivo Academy’s interim principal, sent a lengthy 1300-word letter to parents and carers with his views of the negotiations.    

He says the union was not satisfied with the staff coaching policy, enforcement of the teacher dress code, expectations of after school meeting commitments and training associated with the trust’s controversial behavioural policy.   

Mr Meneaugh said: “Unfortunately, it would appear that the reassurances we have provided were not enough to call off the future strikes planned.”  

But some feel the principal’s correspondence misses a key point – an understanding that teachers are unhappy and frustrated about how the trust runs the school.

The Hunts Post: Tony Meneaugh, the interim principal at St Ivo Academy, in St Ives.Tony Meneaugh, the interim principal at St Ivo Academy, in St Ives. (Image: Astrea Academy Trust)Mr Burns claims NASUWT members have even been threatened with disciplinary action if classroom layouts are not “Astrea approved”.  

He has heard one regional director toured classrooms to check they were up to standard, including whether the bins and posters were positioned correctly.   

While the Astrea Academy Trust says this is not true, Mr Burns wrote in his email that science teachers had to remove posters of the periodic table.  

“This may sound like I am making this up, I am not,” he insists. 

While the UK’s largest teaching union, the National Education Union (NEU), is not participating it has made the unusual move of issuing a solidarity statement.    

Helen Brook, its district and branch secretary for Cambridgeshire, said: “The NEU is deeply concerned by the level of unhappiness amongst staff at St Ivo.     

“It is clear that the constant changes being implemented by Astrea are continually wrong-footing staff; issues are arising faster than they can be dealt with.     

“We send solidarity to members of St Ivo NASUWT who are taking the difficult decision to strike.”  

The Astrea Academy Trust runs three other secondary schools in Cambridgeshire: Longsands Academy and Ernulf Academy in St Neots as well as Cottenham Village College. 

A spokesperson for Astrea said: “Obviously it’s disappointing news that the strike action is going ahead.  

“We believed there were three remaining issues of contention, covering staff development, a dress code for staff, and limiting the number of after school meetings to one per week.   

“Last Friday, we agreed to further consultation and engagement on the three outstanding areas raised by the unions.  

“Our doors remain open for further discussion, as was agreed last week. 

 “In the meantime, St Ivo will open as normal on strike days and we will do everything we can to ensure our students experience as little disruption as possible.” 

The St Ivo Parents Forum says it continues "to support the dedicated, experienced and caring teaching and non-teaching staff" at the school.