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Our View: Warring sides in English School row oblivious to the interests of students

ΑΠΕΡΓΙΑ ΣΤΗΝ ΑΓΓΛΙΚΗ ΣΧΟΛΗ
Teachers outside the English School in Nicosia on Wednesday

Despite strikes and threat of strikes being very common in the public sector, they are unheard of at private schools. This was why Wednesday’s announcement of an indefinite strike by the teachers of the English School came as a very big surprise, even though it had been preceded by work stoppages over the last week.

The school had never been known for its teachers’ militancy, nor had it experienced this type of industrial action in its history that stretches over more than 100 years. Teachers at the school, like the rest of their colleagues in private education, never caused any such trouble, in stark contrast to what is happening in public schools, at which teaching unions are agents of continual disruption.

Perhaps the teachers at the English School never caused industrial disputes because their union’s demands were regularly satisfied. Then again, so are the demands of teachers at public schools, but their unions still initiate unnecessary disputes, wanting to dictate when students must sit exams, what the curriculum must be and blocking evaluation of their work or protesting about lack of air conditioning in classrooms.

There have never been such disputes at private schools, at which teachers, even if they are unionised, respect the right of management to run a school and do not interfere. Private school unions stick to negotiating pay and conditions with management, even though their powers are restricted because many teachers are hired on personal contracts. A collective agreement is one of the demands of the English School union (ESSA).

Of course, the dispute at the English School may have been caused by bad decisions taken by the board and the headmaster in dealings with the teachers. The decision to propose the sacking of the ESSA leader, for disciplinary offences, in the middle of an ongoing industrial dispute, was guaranteed to exacerbate the situation. It illustrated abjectly poor judgment by the management team and the board, unless their objective all-out war with the teachers.

Even if this was the objective, it is an exceedingly bad call, because the victims were the students, whose education and welfare is supposed to be number one concern of those who run the school. Having disgruntled and alienated teachers in the classroom, after being crushed in an industrial dispute with the board will have a big cost on the education of the students. Is this what the school board and management team want? They cannot sack all the teachers and have them replaced.

The school management, which has been accused of authoritarianism and intimidation tactics by ESSA, has failed spectacularly. It has caused the biggest crisis ever faced by the school, oblivious to the interests of the students, and has made the situation even worse by proposing the sacking the head of the union to the board. If the board wants to safeguard the interests of students it will see sense.

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