TEACHERS at an academy in Thornton Heath went on strike today in a row over lesson observations. Staff at Winterbourne Boys' Academy took part in a walkout on Tuesday after talks between the NUT and the school's sponsor failed. The union says staff have been subjected to lesson observations on an almost daily basis since Platanos, which also runs a secondary in Lambeth, took over in April. Platanos was asked to sponsor what was then Winterbourne Junior Boys' after the school was placed in special measures by Ofsted following an inspection in October 2012. David Winters, NUT caseworker, told the Advertiser that the organisation had been "heavy-handed". He said: "Our members have asked for support because of the pressure they have been placed under. "In some cases they are subject to observations on an almost daily basis, which has caused caused a great deal of anxiety. "We feel that, rather than being a developmental experience, it has become punitive. "The teachers believe they have not been given the opportunity to work on the feedback they have been given. In some cases they have not been given feedback at all." Acting head teacher Susan Ballon has not responded to the Advertiser's requests for a comment. The school remained open despite the strike, which saw staff on the picket line hand out leaflets to parents explaining their stance. Winterbourne is the second Croydon school where teachers have taken industrial action over how often their lessons are observed by senior staff. Last year teachers went on strike at Westwood Girls' College in Upper Norwood after the Harris Federation, which has since taken over and rebranded the school, imposed regular assessments in response to a damning Ofsted report and the borough's worst GCSE results. Harris said the measures were necessary to drive up standards. Ofsted rated Winterbourne as "inadequate" and described teaching as "weak" because it failed to give pupils the necessary reading and writing skills to prepare them for secondary school. Mr Winters said the union appreciated the need for improvement, but insisted school managers had gone too far. "When a school has failed an inspection one can expect to work additional hours and to modify teaching so that learning has improved," he said. "However, there's a limit to what can be done. We believe the management has tried to do too much in too short a space of time – hence the dispute." As well as a limit of three observations per academic year, the NUT advises that teachers should only be subject to 1,265 hours of "directed time" – such as parents evening, staff meetings and inset days. Mr Winters says the school breached that figure in April. Despite this week's action, however, he is confident further strikes can be averted. "I believe there's a willingness on the part of management to roll back some of the demands being placed on our members," he said. "What we don't have is precise details about what they are going to do. No concessions were forthcoming that would have allowed us to call off the action that took place this week." Alisa Flemming, cabinet member for children, families and learning, called on the union and the school to resume talks. "The needs of the pupils must come first," she said. "This is why we urge both parties to get round the table to reach a solution as soon as possible. "There is still time for this to happen and I am hopeful that it can be done."
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