Anger over Astrea Academy Trust's 'draconian' morning routine at St Neots' Longsands Academy

  • Katie Ridley speaks to teachers striking over what's being described as “adverse management practices" at a school

Furious teachers are striking over a school's "morning welcome" - described as "draconian, rigid and controlling".

They say students at Longsands Academy - a secondary school and sixth form in St Neots, Cambridgeshire - are being made to line up in silence before entering their classrooms every day.

The school is run by Astra Academy Trust - which last year also came under fire for "draconian" and "inhumane" measures at another school in Cambridgeshire.

But the trust says the morning welcome is a chance to share news with the whole school and would help improve behaviour issues identified in a recent Ofsted report.

"The morning welcome involves a whistle being blown at 8.37am,"said Helen Brook, who represents Cambridgeshire at the National Education Union.

"All the children line up in straight lines in alphabetical order, facing forward in silence.

"A second whistle is then blown and they have to make sure they're in their lines.

"And if they're not standing correctly, they will be told off for it. If anyone is talking, they will get a detention.

"Messages and news from the academy is then spoken to the children and quite often, my understanding is it's just used as an opportunity to moan about the fact they didn't line up quickly enough or that they're still talking.

"They then all have to turn in silence and then file to their form rooms one at a time."

Teachers and parents protesting outside Longsands Academy in St Neots. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Ms Brook said children, parents and staff "hate" it.

"It's felt it's anything but a welcome. It's draconian, it's rigid and it is a controlling measure for students, and they don't like it."

She added: "Where in life does that ordinarily happen? Apart from in the military or in jail? What exactly is Astrea trying to set these students up to do?"

The school has more than 1,600 students aged 11 to 18.

The union representative described staff morale as "really, really low".

She said: "Over 40 teachers have left this year and there's a lot leaving in the next two weeks. They are haemorrhaging staff and it's been made quite clear to them: if you don't like the Astrea way, then leave.

"That is not an acceptable way to treat people."

Helen Brook, representing Cambridgeshire at the National Education Union Credit: ITV News Anglia

Teachers have been trying to negotiate with school bosses, but Ms Brook said the academy "will not budge on the morning welcome".

She continued: "We even tried to arrange a compromise by saying: how about just doing the morning welcome three days a week?

"But they absolutely would not budge. And for our members of staff, it is absolutely the deal-breaker.

"They see no value in it, bearing in mind that the welcome can sometimes be canceled."

Teachers holding up signs as they go on strike at Longsands Academy in St Neots, Cambridgeshire Credit: ITV News Anglia

Longsands Academy said it would open as normal on Tuesday and Wednesday, despite the strike.

A spokesperson said: “It is deeply disappointing that industrial action is going ahead, and particularly so when it is based on one last substantive issue.

"We have made many compromises throughout our discussions, but we will not compromise on holding the morning welcome.

“This is such an important part of our school day, giving us the opportunity to welcome the students every morning and getting everyone off to a calm start to the day ahead.

"This is particularly important given the behaviour issues identified in the recent Ofsted report that we are all still working to improve.

Longsands Academy in St Neots, Cambridgeshire Credit: ITV News Anglia

“Lasting for five minutes, morning welcome gives us the opportunity to share any messages with the whole school – for instance about our values, or something that is happening in school that day."

The spokesman added: “More importantly, it gives us a brilliant opportunity to celebrate our students and their achievements, such as celebrating students of the week, sporting successes...

"Recognising and appreciating our students is so important, particularly those who are modelling the right behaviours and attitudes. It is great for everyone to start the day in such an uplifting and positive way.

“The NEU want this time to be spent on internal departmental meetings, rather than on time with the students. And unfortunately, despite our best efforts to make a number of alternative suggestions about when departmental meetings could take place, the NEU have rejected all of these."

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