THE row over "punitive" lesson observations at an academy in Thornton Heath deepened today as teachers went on strike for the second time in seven days. Eight teachers at Winterbourne Boys' Academy staged a walkout on July 1 in anger at "heavy-handed" tactics used by Platanos Trust, the organisation which runs the school. The NUT had been hopeful of avoiding further action but today (Tuesday) staff went on strike again after school managers cancelled a meeting with the union without explanation. Speaking to the Advertiser on the picket line, Year 6 teacher Mike Tuer said some staff were being subjected to daily lessons observations without feedback. He said: "We're all for monitoring that's constructive, helpful and supportive because it helps us to develop. But, that's not happening here. "Instead teachers are forever looking over their shoulder, worrying about when the next observation will be. It's made them very stressed, very anxious. "For months and months teachers have worked under the threat of unannounced observations, which serve very little purpose, and it's not fair." Winterbourne Boys' Academy, in Winterbourne Road, remained open during the strike, with staff from Platanos College, the trust's other school in Lambeth, asked to cover lessons. Sara Tomlinson, secretary of Lambeth NUT, which supported staff on the picket line, said: "Observing teachers incessantly does not improve results or teaching. It has to be supportive. "You are not going to get good results or happy children if you are making teachers feel miserable." Platanos Trust, which had yet to respond to requests for a comment as the Advertiser went to press, hired a 'bouncer' to provide security on both strike days. However, both passed without incident and parents appeared supportive to those who took part. Matthew Smith, who has one child at the school, said: "It's very sad. There has clearly been a major breakdown in communication, because, knowing the staff, there is no way they would want to strike without good reason. "I have a lot of sympathy for them. Platanos tell you what they want, rather than having any sort of discussion. Since they arrived, the school feels less a part of the community. It feels like they have a point to prove instead of having the best interests of the children at heart." Last week Michael Rush, a consultant representing Platanos, said increased lesson observations were needed to improve teaching. The trust took over the school and converted it into an academy in April, 18 months after it was placed in special measures by Ofsted. However, a monitoring visit in January found the school was making progress. Mr Tuer said: "I absolutely agree that the focus should be on improving learning, but a senior Ofsted inspector recognised that was already happening before Platanos came in. "The danger is that the academy will push things backwards because they will hack off so many teachers. "The kids are really challenging in this school and that's why people love to work here because you can make a difference. "If teachers become so disaffected they want out that would be such a shame."
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