At the end of November 2021, Louise Lewis, a victimised National Education Union rep, received a letter from North Huddersfield Trust School that she had been dismissed! This follows a so-called reintegration meeting in which Louise had been expecting to discuss her return to work. Instead, Louise was informed that some members of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) had concerns about her coming back to school despite a long disciplinary process concluding that she could and should return.
There was no hearing where Louise could defend herself or put her case and the decision was not made by a panel of governors but rather one individual who was acting beyond his powers. This is an orchestrated witch-hunt against Louise following a disciplinary process that didn’t go the way the Headteacher and Chair of Governors wanted after seeking her dismissal back in April 2020. In reality, the disciplinary process into Louise’s conduct last academic year was completed and her suspension had been lifted. Louise has been waiting to begin a process of reintegration back into the school.
The NEU has put out a statement saying that:
“The action of the Chair of Governors is unprecedented and cannot go unchallenged if NEU members of staff are going to feel confident in their employer acting reasonably in the future.
We have no confidence in Phil Weston and believe his actions are putting the school at risk and that he should resign. Louise is very keen to return to teaching at the school having been a teacher at the school for over 10 years. She is a member of the local community and in fact attended the school as a pupil.
She is focused on delivering exceptional learning opportunities for the students and has worked tirelessly in this regard for many years. She has always stated that she has no issue working with any member of SLT as she is a professional. She has also confirmed on a number of occasions that she is open to mediation, if this would assist others with her re-integration.
The NEU will be taking all steps open to us to challenge this decision and get Louise back to school where she belongs.”
Since Louise’s original victory in fighting off dismissal, which had been backed up with a huge public outcry and several successful strike days by her union members at the school, Louise has been elected to the union’s National Executive. This makes fighting this dismissal even more important than the original action taken in the last academic year for the whole of the union. As the NEU has correctly argued, ‘the action of the Chair of Governors is unprecedented and cannot go unchallenged.’
An attack on one is an attack on all
In reality, this threat goes further than North Huddersfield Trust School. It sends a very dangerous message to school leaders and headteachers who do not wish to work with union representatives and has set a precedent which must be challenged with the full might of the NEU, other education unions and the wider trade union movement. Over the last year, there have been a whole number of isolated cases of NEU reps being victimised along very similar lines to Louise and who have been bullied out of their jobs despite local resistance. A line needs to be clearly drawn in Louise’s case that these cases of victimisation will have to be resisted, not just at local level, but also nationally through coordinated and sustained action.
A programme of action is now being planned up to Christmas and into the New Year. Naturally, the union is pursuing a legal case to Tribunal level I, with active support from the union’s national legal department. However, these cases can take a long time and immediate pressure needs to be brought to bear on the employer, as well as the local Council.
The union is proposing to ballot members for strike action, ideally starting this process before Christmas. The ‘Defend Louise Lewis’ campaign has once again kicked into action and will be lobbying the Council since Mr Weston is a Local Authority appointed governor.
Further protests are planned next week to mobilise public support, but this time outside the council buildings. Model letters and motions are being circulated around the community and the trade unions nationally to go to every member of the Governing Body and the Council. All this goes alongside the social media campaign which gained so much traction last time round and will undoubtedly attract even more support because of this appalling discriminatory and vindictive action.
Socialist Alternative is calling on all supporters and campaigners to use the letters and model motions to spread the word. We know that the solidarity action last academic year had a huge impact and helped to get Louise her job back. This time round the stakes for Louise could not be higher. She will be out of work after Christmas (once her notice period expires) unless this solidarity action can turn things around.
We expect the NEU to make its support for Louise a national priority, linking her dismissal to the need for a determined struggle for national action over pay and workloads. Losing effective reps weakens the union, but a second victory for Louise will lift the fighting spirit and morale of NEU members everywhere.
We are demanding:
- That the Governors overturn Mr Weston’s appalling decision and reinstate Louise
- The Chair of Governors resigns from his position
- That the Council instigates an immediate independent investigation – led by elected representatives of trade unions, parents, students, and the community – into the actions at North Huddersfield school
Justice for Louise Lewis!