The Kirklees branch of the National Education Union has formally entered into a dispute with North Huddersfield Trust High School over breaches of health and safety guidelines which has left both staff and pupils at huge risk during the Covid-19 crisis. Matters came to a head on 1 October when headteacher, Mr Fell, suspended the school’s union representative, Louise Lewis.
Louise had been strictly following trade union advice to try and secure whole-school and individual risk assessments for all staff and, by implication, pupils, as well as for herself as she is a clinically vulnerable member of staff.
She has also been a senior member of staff at the school for seven years and been the NEU representative for four years. Initially Mr Fell refused to engage with Louise over her request for risk assessments and had postponed at least four scheduled meetings with her. He also contacted the school’s human resources department and even the local NEU branch office in Huddersfield asking to have her removed as union spokesperson. He has now discouraged union members from going to their union but to directly approach him if they have any concerns. Having failed to have her removed, he took out disciplinary action against her, leading to her suspension. Louise was provided with no evidence to justify her suspension and she was immediately denied access to the school email system. A condition of her suspension is that she is forbidden from talking to anyone outside of school or to her work colleagues about Mr Fell’s actions, effectively gagging her!
The NEU believes this is a deliberate attempt to marginalise the NEU union voice, and as such, is also a threat to all union members in the school. Louise is also a senior officer in the local NEU branch. Any attempt to marginalise one of the NEU senior officers is taken very seriously.
The NEU met with Mr Fell on 16 November to raise their concerns and call for the school to reinstate Louise and work with the union constructively. He refused, which has now left the union with no choice but to begin a ballot for industrial action. If the ballot is successful, the union will begin strike action early in the new year. The ballot result will be known on 11 December. Louise herself has also submitted a full grievance against the headteacher, which is being investigated.
The NEU branch in Kirklees has now adopted a motion to launch a ‘Defend Louise Lewis’ campaign. Parents have launched a petition demanding she is reinstated and that the governing body organise an independent investigation into the actions of the head. The union has now also organised its own petition and written to local councillors, MP’s and the Head of Education protesting about the situation. The branch has also circulated a model motion calling for solidarity support with Louise and sending urgent letters of protest to the Governing Body has already been passed by numerous union branches. The local Trades Council has also committed to organise an online rally in support of Louise and protests are now planned by local supporters outside the school. No stone will be left unturned until Louise is reinstated and a full investigation carried out into this headteacher. Please sign the petition and send letters of protest as outlined below.