Union bosses said at least 40 teachers had taken part in today’s walkout at Bradfield School, where they claim 15 jobs are under threat as a result of ‘poor financial management’.
The National Education Union (NEU) says further strikes will follow on April 17 and 18 if the school’s leaders fail to engage in ‘meaningful dialogue'.
School chiefs, who expect to end the academic year £800,000 in the red, plan to close Bradfield’s sixth form to new students and reduce staff but say they are doing everything in their power to avoid compulsory redundancies.
Today's strike followed a community meeting yesterday evening about the cuts, which union leaders said around 200 people had attended.
NEU representative Ben Miskell, who teaches at the school, said: “Going on strike is a last resort but we want the school’s leaders to think again about some of the changes they’re imposing, which we’re worried would dramatically impact the community.
“We’re calling for an end to the threat of compulsory redundancies, and we hope the school will enter into meaningful dialogue so further strike action isn't necessary.”
Melanie Rogers, who has two children at the school, both aged 15, joined staff on the picket line to show her support.
“I’m absolutely disgusted with the governors and some of the senior management team over what’s happened,” she said.
“Ofsted told the school its senior management team was too big a year ago but they’ve actually increased it by two since then.
“The teachers aren’t striking just over their jobs. They’re striking for the future of the school and its pupils.
“I feel particularly strongly about the cuts to arts, drama and music, which are really strong departments.
“They need to reverse the redundancies and the cuts to those departments.”
Ms Rogers told how her daughter had been due to start sixth form at Bradfield this September, having chosen to stay on there thanks to the ‘incredible support’ from staff, but was now considering not doing A levels.
She added that her son, who is in the first year of his GCSEs, did not know which teachers he would have next year and was worried the cuts could affect his grades.
Louisa Foster, who is in the first year of sixth form at Bradfield, said she was ‘absolutely devastated’ about the proposed cuts.
“I just feel so sad because all the teachers have put such hard work and dedication into making the sixth form what it is," she added.
“I find it appalling how the school’s dealt with the situation and communicated with us. We haven’t had any formal meetings with any of the governors responsible for making these decisions.
“The way they’ve dealt with this has really affected my mental health, and I’ve had many panic attacks.”
NEU branch secretary Toby Mallinson said: “This is about financial mismanagement over a number of years. We need effective leadership and we need them to get the Education Funding Agency to give the school more time to turn its budget around to safeguard staff and education, and maybe save the sixth form.”
Bradfield’s acting headteacher Deborah Banks said the school was facing a ‘substantial deficit’ and governors had taken the ‘very difficult decision’ to close the sixth form to ensure its future ‘financial stability’.
“The decision to halt recruitment to the sixth form inevitably means we need fewer teachers and hence the potential of compulsory redundancies,” she continued.
“To not reduce the number of teachers to reflect the number of students would lead to further debt. The arts and social sciences remain an important part of the curriculum at Bradfield School.”
Ms Banks added that Bradfield's governors and senior leadership team had discussed the situation with trade unions on numerous occasions and continued to ‘reach out to them to resolve this matter’.
She said the school hoped to avoid compulsory redundancies through 'natural turnover’, voluntary redundancy and voluntary changes to contracted hours.
“Progress in managing the change so far is encouraging, with significant reduction in the number of posts at risk compared to the start of the consultation process. The consultation does not close until Friday, March 29,” she continued.
“Given that the consultation process is still live, we feel disappointed that the NEU has chosen to use strike action as a first rather than a last resort.”
The school was closed to most pupils today but remained open to those in year 11 and the sixth form.